‘Firsts’ of our youth stay with us for a lifetime

Published: January 5 2014 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:39 am in

It’s easy to romanticize experiences that occurred when we were young: our first love, our first success, our first time traveling. However, as Gail Mencini explores in her debut novel “To Tuscany with Love,” these experiences can have a lasting impact on our lives and encourage us, in small and large ways, to be our best selves.

Beginning in the 1980s and moving up to present day, “To Tuscany with Love” is the story of college junior Bella Rossini and the life-altering summer she spends in Tuscany with seven other students. During that summer, the students explore the cobblestone street, gain confidence, fall in love and take chances. Mencini then carefully follows the lives of each character and what happens as they age, pursue careers, and build families. We see how their dreams grow and change — and are sometimes neglected — and learn that none of them ever forgot that summer: the independence, the friendship, and the love. When they reunite in Tuscany 30 years later, secrets are revealed and, just like that first trip, transformations occur.

“To Tuscany with Love” is a charming tale showcasing the many lives we have within the one life we’re given and how important it is, like writer Joan Didion said, “to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”

While Bella is the main focus of the novel, the lives of all eight students are explored, making the novel wonderfully multidimensional. However, Mencini’s side characters do not receive the same grace and often fall victim to some gross stereotyping (especially Middle Easterners and Italians). On the whole “To Tuscany with Love” is a great book-club read: a story of love, hope and transformation, with some romance sprinkled in for good measure.

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