I enjoyed reading Just A Boy by Elena Varvello even though it wasn’t my normal reading genre. It certainly didn’t fit its description as a thriller. I would categorise it as literary /family/emotional fiction.
As the title suggests, the story focuses on the past behaviour of a now-dead teenage boy although the story centres on the boy’s mother, her mother, her husband, her two daughters and her friend and their responses to the boy’s behaviour.
His initial disturbingly-odd behaviour was two house break-ins/roberries, both of which trouble his family. But what really kicks the story off is a house break-in and attack on the family (including the daughter) of his mother’s friend. In the immediate aftermath of this last incident, the boy kills himself and this is really what the book is about.
The story is a protracted examination of his family-members’ reactions, memories and ‘what-ifs’. There is an element of teenage-/adolescent-angst but ‘once-removed’ as each of the boy’s family members tries to make sense of his behaviour. This all had a strong feeling of reality; it’s likely every familiy in a smiliar situation would go through a similarly drawn-out self-examination. In this regard, although the characters were not well developed in terms of descriptions and back stories, their dialogue and behaviour gave them a vivid richness that is probably the real essence of the story. It feels like I learnt as much about the individual familiy members and their thoughts and behaviour as much as I learnt about the boy and his behaviour.
The book is well-written (perhaps I should say the translation is well-written because the book is originally written in Italian; the story is set in Italy.) It is quite literary in style, evocative and reflective, and although the plot is not linear in terms of time, it flows easily. So, not really for fans of suspense, thrillers and crime-mystery, but certainly one that fans of The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) might enjoy.
My favourite extract from this book: ‘There are so many things we should do, and then we never can,’ Sara said. ‘We should have done them, yes.’