Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini
(Doubleday – August 15, 2017)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A raw, honest and exquisitely foreign look at early 1990’s Los Angeles through the eyes of a not-so-innocent teen girl. (NOT a YA book)
Thanks to Doubleday books for providing me with a finished copy for review purposes – all opinions are my own.
When a book opens on an early 90’s LA beach with an Italian family (including the grandmother) sunbathing in the nude, you just know it’s not going to be a typical story. And oh my goodness, it surely wasn’t typical! THINGS THAT HAPPEN BEFORE THE EARTHQUAKE takes place in the time period between the 1992 riots in LA and the big earthquake in 1994, and follows a family from Rome who has moved to LA for the movie business. Or, for the father to try to make it in the movie business, that is – the rest of the family is just along for the ride. Eugenia, the 16-year-old narrator, and her younger brother Timoteo are vehemently opposed to the move and struggle to assimilate as they must navigate US public schools for the first time, along with American and LA culture in general.
Eugenia and her narrative style are oh so Italian, and oh so unflinchingly brash. There is sex, and there is NO holding back on the description of it. The sex isn’t always happy and it is rarely pretty, and it’s used as a literary tool in the telling of Eugenia’s coming of age story. There are drugs, and there are hints of impropriety in various parent-child relationships and there are just a whole lot of down-and-dirty gritty descriptions of people and the Los Angeles setting. All of these things made this story a bit of a wild ride for me – one minute I was grimacing at a description of a sex act and then the next Eugenia was back on an Italian island for the summer and it was achingly beautiful and my heart just melted at this new look at the same girl. I ended up kind of falling in love with her and her determination to assimilate to this wild new world despite her eccentric family and the otherworldly nature of LA.
Highly recommended for eyes-wide-open readers willing to take the plunge into a raw coming of age story told from a unique perspective, as well as for LA-lovers in general.