WHITE AS SILENCE,
RED AS SONG
by Alessandro D'Avenia
September 4th, 2018
YA Contemporary / Romance
International bestseller White as Milk, Red as Blood, has been called the Italian The Fault in Our Stars.
Leo is an ordinary sixteen-year-old: he loves hanging out with his friends, playing soccer, and zipping around on his motorbike. The time he has to spend at school is a drag, and his teachers are "a protected species that you hope will become extinct," so when a new history and philosophy teacher arrives, Leo greets him with his usual antipathy. But this young man turns out to be different. His eyes sparkle when he talks, and he encourages his students to live passionately, and follow their dreams.
Leo now feels like a lion, as his name suggests, but there is still one thing that terrifies him: the color white. White is absence; everything related to deprivation and loss in his life is white. Red, on the other hand, is the color of love, passion and blood; red is the color of Beatrice's hair. Leo's dream is a girl named Beatrice, the prettiest in school. Beatrice is irresistible - one look from her is enough to make Leo forget about everything else.
There is, however, a female presence much closer to Leo, which he finds harder to see because she's right under his nose: the ever-dependable and serene Silvia. When he discovers that Beatrice has leukemia and that her disease is related to the white that scares him so much, Leo is forced to search within himself, to bleed and to be reborn. In the process, he comes to understand that dreams must never die, and he finds the strength to believe in something bigger than himself.
White as Milk, Red as Blood is not only a coming-of-age story and the narrative of a school year, but it is also a bold novel that, through Leo's monologue - at times easy-going and full of verve, at times more intimate and anguished - depicts what happens when suffering and shock burst into the world of a teenager, and the world of adults is rendered speechless.
Leo is as his name—a lion with untame hair and stealth. Too bad his bravery ends when he faces feelings of being alone, feelings he sees as white and empty. The most meaningful color of his life is red, the color of Beatrice, a girl he's fallen in love with but never spoken to. He's not sure she even knows he exists. But when a substitute teacher inspires Leo to find his dream and live for it, his world starts to change. Until he discovers a horrible twist of fate which threatens to crush his dreams and change his views on reality.
I'm not usually a huge fan of deep thoughts and literary literature. As I read the first chapter, I was fairly sure I might be setting this book aside. The idea of a teenage boy viewing life in two colors didn't seem realistic. But after another chapter, I was hooked. The words pull in, never too many and never too few. Leo is exposed in all of his simpleness, complexity and rawness. And it's addicting.
During the first chapters, Leo's thoughts are more random, shooting off with a bit of chaos in the same way his views of life and those around him are unsettled. The modern day references make it easy to connect with him, and his concerns are very normal for his age. He's a little lost, but not completely, and wishes to find more sense in life and everything around him. Because nothing really sits perfectly. As the chapters continue and those around him as well as the situations cause him to rethink his views and opinions, his thoughts become more focused and settled. The writing matures as Leo does—a masterful weave.
Despite the depth of the emotions and thoughts, this was an easy read. The chapters are kept short, letting each moment hit and leave a quick impression before moving on. This also keeps the pacing afloat, guaranteeing that there's never too much time spent in one area. The problems hit hard and targeted, making the messages clear before heading right into the next. There's also a tad bit of teenage snark built it (a tiny dash), which keeps the story for growing too heavy at times. And there are heavy moments which Leo has to work his way through and understand. The religious aspects flowed in just as smoothly, never preachy and perfectly natural. In other words, everything is well done, and in my opinion, this book deserves all the praise it's received.
Having already sold over a million copies in Italy, Alessandro D’Avenia’s debut novel is considered the Italian The Fault in Our Stars. Now available in English for the first time, this rich, funny, and heartwarming coming-of-age tale asks us to explore the meaning—and the cost—of friendship, and shows us what happens when suffering bursts into the world of teenagers and renders the world of adults speechless.