Sunday, May 31, 2015

Love, Lucy by April Lindner

April Lindner has written a story about a young girl coming of age as she experiences her first love and struggles to make her own decisions about life.

Seventeen year old Lucy Sommersworth and her best friend Charlene Barr are backpacking their way through Europe, in the vacation of a lifetime. Lucy's father paid for their flights in exchange for Lucy enrolling at Forsythe University to study business. It's not a major Lucy would have chosen. She's a born actress having landed the leads in almost every school play and summer stage production and dreaming of a career as an actress. Lucy is not good at math and money but she's used to her father pushing his way on her. "All my life he's wanted me to be things I"m not. Like a sports star. Or one of those kids in the Gifted program."

So as to entice her to study something reasonable at college, Lucy's father has bribed her. Not wishing Lucy to travel alone, her parents agreed to pay for both Lucy and Charlene's airline tickets and Eurail passes. The novel opens two weeks into their trip with Charlene upset over their room at the Hostel Bertolini. As of lately, Charlene and Lucy have not been getting along, ever since Charlene left a boy she really liked in Munich. After Charlene marches down to the check-in desk to complain about the lousy view and gets their rooms changed, Lucy meets one of the boys who is forced to switch rooms with her. At first he seems rude and to be ignoring Lucy's attempts to apologize for her friend's behaviour. But when Nello the sweet boy at the check-in desk arrives, Lucy is dismayed to see that the boy, Jesse Palladino, is actually from New Jersey and speaks English. 

Il duomo di Firenze
While they wait for Nello and Jesse to move to another room, Lucy and Charlene meet Ellen who is a travel writer for a guide called Wanderlust. Charlene doesn't want to leave the hostel, so Lucy decides to go exploring beautiful Florence by herself. Although Lucy is grateful to have had Charlene travel with her, their relationship has grown strained over the last few days since they left Munich. Lucy wanders through Florence taking in the shops and the Arno, the river that winds through the city.  The next day while walking to Santa Croce, Lucy asks Charlene if she is still upset over leaving behind Simon, a British guy she met in Munich. When Simon left for Mittenwald, Charlene felt obligated to stay with Lucy despite Lucy telling her otherwise. This causes harsh words between the two girls and Charlene stalks off, leaving Lucy on her own. Lucy wanders through Florence eventually coming to a piazza where she sees Jesse busking. Once she actually talks to Jesse, Lucy realizes he is quite friendly and allows him to show her around Florence including the Piazza del Duomo.

The next day Jesse accompanies Lucy and Charlotte on a picnic at the Boboli Gardens where Charlene reveals that Lucy is a talented actress and singer who gave up her dream in exchange for this trip. Lucy is upset at Charlene telling Jesse this and worries that he will think she sold out because he has decided to forgo college. The following day, on a borrowed Vespa, they tour Florence, visiting the Bargello and the Piazza della Signoria. Jesse tells Lucy what her father made her do was not right. "He made you trade away your whole future? In exchange for this trip you're on right now? That's just not cool." Lucy tries to rationalize her decision but Jesse tells her she has given up on herself. This makes Lucy wonder "was Jesse right? Had she given up on her dreams too easily?" Jesse tries to tell Lucy that it's not too late but she is convinced the deal she made with her father is permanent. They go to Piazzale Michelangelo and then onto an underground club where Jesse plays in a band. He invites Lucy onto the stage to sing and is so impressed that he tries again to encourage her to reconsider the pact she made with her father.

The next day, their final one in Florence, sees Lucy along with Jesse and Charlene visiting Fiesole. In Fiesole, Jesse and Lucy share their first kiss, but the moment is ruined by Charlene and leads to a huge fight between the two girls. That night, their last together, Jesse tells Lucy that he has the rest of the week off and wants to go to Rome with her. They decide that Jesse will try to get on the train with her to Rome but if he's not able to he will take an later train. In Rome they will share a room together.  This means that Lucy and Charlene will go their separate ways and meet up at the airport in Rome.

In Rome, Lucy and Jesse make love and spend their last days together visiting the same sites as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. They visit the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Castel Sant'Angelo, Piazza Venezia and even busk together in the Piazza Navona.Their last night together sees Jesse try to convince Lucy to stay in Europe but when she tells him she does want to go to college he tells her to try to make her own choices. They say goodbye, exchanging emails and Lucy returns to the States.

In the fall, Lucy now enrolled at Forsythe University where she rooms with Glory, Britt and Sarah. Still pining over Jesse, Lucy meets a handsome freshman, Shane who also happens to be majoring in business. At the same time Lucy hears from Jesse that he is leaving the hostel and moving to Torre Annunziatia to live with Nello's family. Then one day Lucy sees an ad for auditions for the musical, Rent, "her all-time favourite musical". Her friends debate the ethics of Lucy going for an audition in light of the promise to her father but Lucy decides the next day to sign up for auditions and is stunned when she earns the part of Maureen in the play. Meanwhile things between her and Jesse begin to deteriorate fast when emails between them reveal that Jesse is probably dating Nello's twin sister. Angry over this Lucy sends him a nasty email and lets him know she is seeing someone new.

Lucy remains deeply upset over what has happened between her and Jesse, even more so after her makeup email is bounced back. Her relationship with Shane, who seems so perfect, begins moving faster than Lucy feels comfortable with. Added to this is her father's angry reaction when he learns she has a part in the musical. Can Lucy ever get control of her life and do what she feels is best for her?


Love, Lucy like April Lindner's other novels has some identical plot elements of another famous novel, in this case, E.F. Forster's, Room With A View. In Room With A View, Lucy Honeychurch is travelling with her cousin, Charlotte. Their room is unsuitable because of the poor view and one of the hotel's guests, Mr. Emerson, agrees to switch. Forster's Lucy is an accomplished pianist. Lucy has many encounters with Mr. Emerson and his son George, who boldly kisses Lucy after they witness a violent encounter in the Piazza Signoria. Even this event is mirrored in Lindner's story with the violent row between two lovers witnessed by Lucy and Jesse. When they travel outside Florence to the countryside, George again kisses Lucy, shocking her chaperone, Charlotte. The next day they leave for Rome and then return to Surrey, England. In England, Lucy agrees to marry Cecil Vyse but is surprised when the Emersons show up at a nearby villa. George successfully persuades Lucy that Cecil is not the man she should marry and she breaks off her engagement to him. Meanwhile, George's father tells Lucy that the man she really loves is his son, George. Marrying George will go against her family's ideals of class but Lucy decides to do so and she and George marry and return to Florence.

As in Room With A View, Lucy is still Lucy, Charlene takes on the part of Charlotte, Jesse is George and Shane is Cecil. In Love, Lucy, the contrast between Jesse and Shane is not as sharp but Lindner does make a distinction. Meeting Jesse opens Lucy's eyes. He tells her how he has traveled from Amsterdam to Prague, Berlin, Munich, Vienna and Rome and stayed in Italy for a year which amazes Lucy. His decision to live without any set plans amazes her. "No plans? Lucy thought. The idea struck her as peculiar -- how could a person not have plans? -- but also enticing."  Jesse later on openly admits that he's not doing what his parents want him to do (go to college). Lucy tells him that her parents would "flip out" if she did that. Jesse states, "Mine aren't exactly thrilled,"..."But it's my life...They wanted me to go to college, but I told them not to waste their money. They still don't get it. Not everybody needs to go to school. There are other ways to learn about the world."

Later when Lucy becomes involved with Shane despite him being "so gorgeous, so sophisticated, so perfect, really, in just about every way" she struggles in the relationship. Shane is the complete opposite of Jesse, well dressed and punctual.  Shane is obviously well off - he drives a "sporty, silver car" , shows up on time for their dates and is well dressed. Lucy notes his "suede jacket and expensive jeans that set him apart from the other guys she'd met..."  "He's the perfect guy, Lucy told herself for about the thirtieth time that night." And unlike Jesse, Shane's life is all mapped out for him; he's a business major because he's going to work for his father's import business. He tells her, "...I'm not one of those guys who has to rebel against his father just to prove a point,". Instead, having seen what such rebellion has done for his brothers, Shane is the type of guy who takes the easy path rather than doing what he wants in life.

Although Shane seems like the perfect boyfriend, Lucy cannot totally be herself with him. When after their third date and a week into rehearsals he asks her how the play is going, Lucy can't tell him her worries about freezing on stage. "Lucy considered telling him about her terror of freezing up onstage, then decided to let him go on thinking of her as talented and capable." When Shane tells her that he's proud to have a star as a girlfriend, she wonders if he would feel the same way if she turned out not to be a star.

Eventually, as Lucy deep conflict over Shane and Jesse leads her to realize she's not being honest with herself and with both boys. When she can't tell Shane the truth about their relationship she realizes that she's living a lie. "She acted for Shane all the time, trying to seem worldly, glamorous, adventurous, and perpetually upbeat -- all the things she imagined a guy like Shane would want in a girlfriend. She was acting for him now."  No matter what she throws at Shane he's always nice and understanding and this makes Lucy realize that he deserves better. She finally finds the courage to tell him the truth.

Like Room With A View, the main protagonist in Love, Lucy, is forced to grow up and assert herself, instead of allowing everyone else to make decisions about her life. After she clears up her personal love life,  Lucy gradually takes control in other areas of her life  - refusing to quit rehearsals for Rent, even when her father gives her an ultimatum. She finally confronts him, asking him, "I'm going to Forsythe and majoring in business, like you wanted. Why isn't that enough for you? I don't even like business. In fact, so far I hate it...Why do you have to control everything in my life? Why can't I keep this one thing that means so much to me?" Despite her father telling her she's only moderately talented, Lucy's belief in her own ability leads her to perform brilliantly and to eventually convince her father to allow her to continue acting. In the end they reach a compromise.

In keeping with the similarity to Room with a View, Lucy and Jesse return to the same hostel and rent out the same room, this time together.

Interestingly, the most likeable characters in Love, Lucy are the two guys, Jesse and Shane, who although very opposite, are kind and thoughtful towards her. In fact, both boys encourage Lucy to stand up to her father or at least try to talk to him.  Lucy however,  is not a likeable protagonist; she's selfish and very immature as evidenced by how she treats both boys. She sleeps with Jesse after she's known him for less than a week, making it difficult for her to turn down Shane despite her conflicted feelings towards him. Her father is equally annoying, pompous and overbearing, manipulative, rigid and controlling.

Lucy's situation with her parents is not an uncommon one. Some parents who are able to pay for their children's university, and within certain cultures, there is an expectation that children will study what the parents choose for their child. As a librarian I've seen situations where a young person wants to work as a photographer or an artist, but are told no funds will be forthcoming unless that child studies medicine or a science discipline. It is not the job of parents to choose their children's occupation in life. It is our duty to guide them and advise them.

There are lots of other themes to explore in this novel, for example the choice between love and duty. Lindner makes several references to the 1953 classic film, Roman Holiday, where a European princess spends 24 hours with an American reporter and falls in love with him. She has to make the choice between her duty to her country or to follow her heart.

Love, Lucy will appeal to those readers who enjoy a romance mixed with travel. And who doesn't love a romance set in Italy!

Book Details:

Love, Lucy by April Lindner
New York: Little, Brown and Company      2015
290 pp.

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