Love & Gelato – Jenna Evans Welch

5 stars

O.M.G. – my new favorite book of 2020, and possibly my top 5 of all time! How have I never heard about this book before?! Warning – this review is long, like really long. And I’m sorry for that but I just have way too much to say about this book and want to be sure I am getting my feelings across as best as I can.

Have you ever read a book that you assumed was going to be a cutesy, light, and fun read but ended up grabbing your heart and hitting you with all of the feels?! Yeah, Love & Gelato was that book for me. What I thought was going to be a teenage girl discovering the best things about Italy and learning about her deceased mom turned out to be so much more than that for me.

Sixteen year old Lina is hit with an unimaginable amount of grief as her mother just passed away from cancer and she was sent to Italy to live with her father whom she had never heard of or from until a few months ago. While in Italy, an old journal of her mom’s finds its way into Lina’s hands and as Lina dives in, desperate to learn anything and everything about her mom’s early years spent in Italy, she ends up discovering way more than she bargained for.

Sounds cute, right? I thought so too – until I started getting teary eyed at the passages that described Lina’s grief for her mom. Then full blown tears once I discovered her mom passed away from the same cancer as my mom. What?! BUT, it doesn’t stop there. Getting her mom’s journal touches Lina in a way like no other; seeing her hand writing and learning about her mom’s life gives Lina a sense of closeness to her, a closeness she has been searching for since she passed away. When my mom passed away, just like Lina, I discovered a few of her journals she kept throughout her diagnosis and rapidly approaching death. To see her words, to read what she wrote about her struggle and about me, brought me to my knees. Having those journals mean more to me than anything and I know exactly how Lina felt in that moment; while I can’t be around her physically, those intimate and personal words make it feel as if we share a special connection.

A lot of this book is centered around Lina’s mom’s journal; which is so ironic on top of everything mentioned above because I am a huge journal-er. I journal every single day and this practice has helped me deal with grief and anxiety so much. Once I found my mom’s journals and felt the way they touched my heart, I made myself promise that I would be more consistent and meaningful with my own journaling; I will carry my mom’s words with me forever and one day, I hope my own words can be that calming force for someone else in my family.

I felt a deep connection with Lina; although we were different ages when we both lost our mom to the ugliest cancer, I could feel the pain in her heart every time she expressed her sadness and grief for the most important person in her life. Losing your mom is a pain that is truly indescribable and you can’t understand until you unfortunately experience it firsthand. A passage I read over and over again, and even took a picture on my phone to remember, said:

“I sank to the floor, pain washing over me in big, jagged waves. She’d told me over and over how wonderful my life was going to be. How proud she was of me. How much she wished she could be there, not just for the big moments, but for the little ones. And then she’d said she’d find a way to stay close to me. But so far, she’d just been gone. Then gone some more. And all that gone stretched out in front of me like a horizon, endless and daunting and empty. I’d been running around Italy trying to solve the mystery of the journal, trying to understand why she’d done what she’d done, but really I’d just been looking for her. And I wasn’t going to find her. Ever.”

Tear my heart in a million pieces because holy crap, I felt that paragraph more than I’ve ever felt words written on paper. I’ve spent the last two and a half years searching for my mom in every place I can yet I’ve never found her. I wanted to wrap Lina in one giant hug this entire book and I know this is probably getting redundant at this point, but I just truly felt her pain come across the pages – and that’s good writing, in my opinion.

Aside from my personal (and unfortunate connection) to this story, I loved every character SO much! Howard, Lina’s dad, may be the cutest dad of all time and not only could I feel what Lina felt, I could completely picture Howard’s reactions and feelings. The setting of Tuscany, Italy and all of the landmarks and monuments that were described were so vivid that it felt like I jumped into the book and sat beside Lina as she ate pounds of gelato and pizza (excuse me while I plan an imaginary vacation to Italy).

This book was a true surprise; it completely touched me so much more than I ever imagined. It allowed me to reflect on my own mom’s journals, wondering if she wrote any of what she did with the inkling that I may find them one day. It reinforced the importance of journaling and the written word as there is nothing stronger than one’s thoughts written down on paper. For a young adult book, it’s one of the best written books I’ve read with the most accurate portrayal of grief and sadness; I couldn’t have described it better myself. But don’t let the grief and sadness scare you away, because this was one of the cutest books I’ve read with an ending that is as sweet as the Italian gelato Lina eats.

Lucky for me, Love & Gelato is book one in a series of three! I have a hold at my library for book two, Love & Luckand book three comes out this fall – Love & Olives

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal. Truly. I urge you to pick up this book and really take the time to reflect on the feelings that emanate throughout the pages. And as always, please let me know if you read this so we can discuss!

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