Gina Attaviano is a fourteen-year-old Italian immigrant girl living her father’s dream when she and her mother and brother arrive in Boston. Their father Alessandro has passed away, but the rest of the family arrive to stay with a cousin and aunt in Lawrence, Massachusetts. They arrive in Boston Harbor and meet two surprisingly helpful locals, Ben Shaw and Harry Barrington, who lend them an apartment for the night. Both are from prominent families, but that doesn’t stop them getting involved with the Attaviano family; Ben immediately becomes infatuated with fourteen-year-old Gina, while Gina herself develops a massive crush on Harry, who remains aloof. Over the course of the novel, determined Gina decides to find a way to fit herself in Boston society, having discovered what she truly longs to have.
I’ve never read any of Paullina Simons’s books before and I have a feeling that I chose the wrong place to start. I was deeply underwhelmed by this book, having heard many good things about the author’s Bronze Horseman trilogy, and I’m now not sure I’m curious enough about what happens next to actually delve into that trilogy. I read this first as I got it for review and a prequel is generally not a bad place to start reading a series, but I think I should have started with Simons’s other books.
Let me explain why. First of all, the characters were simply not people I wanted to spend time with. Gina decides to go off and do her own thing, lying to everyone who loves her, from the minute she steps foot on American soil. She refuses to listen to any sort of logic and, in short, behaves like a reckless teenager. That’s fine – that’s what she is for most of the book anyway. But she also turns out to be a character who is impossibly perfect; she excels at school when she decides she should, she earns all sorts of mysterious extra money with her cleverness and makes herself beautiful clothes, she begs a loan to start her family’s restaurants, and every man who sees her falls at her feet, except of course Harry (until he finally does). She even somehow speaks perfect English, even though she admits in the beginning of the book that she hadn’t paid as much attention to her father’s lessons as she should have.
Harry, on the other hand, is an adult, but seems like he could have happily remained a child or student forever. He ignores all sense of responsibility and lets his life happen to him, rather than doing anything at all to influence it himself. He’s content enough, it seems, to be in a relationship with a well-bred girl he doesn’t love, to flounder about wondering what he’s supposed to be doing while continuing to study (and getting nowhere doing it), and living off his father’s money well into his twenties. Ben, his best friend, was far more interesting because he actually had a spine and went off and did things himself. When Harry finally makes a decision about his life, he hides it from everyone and creates a disaster. Twice.
Second, the book has little plot. Gina decides she’s in love with Harry and the rest of the book is spent on various conversations, political talks and meetings, and her often fruitless efforts to entice him. I felt zero spark between them, even when Harry finally wakes up and realizes that a gorgeous Italian woman has him firmly on a leash. The romance part of the book felt dreamlike and I had no real sense of why these two people had chosen to be together. It’s one of those attraction-and-nothing-else storylines which get on my nerves.
Lastly, much of the book is spent on little happening but talking. I’m normally fine with this and tend to even enjoy “quiet” books, generally because they have some sort of meaning. But here? Gina’s entire existence is focused around Harry; everything she’s done, everything she’s learned, has simply been to attract a man. So her ideals seem faked, while Harry hides from his life and ignores responsibility, spouting nonsense about what he believes in and failing to act on any of it. I just got fed up with them and with the book – after writing this review I’m actually surprised that I finished it.
The Bronze Horseman might be worth reading, but I’m not sure Children of Liberty is. If you’re interested, I’d recommend visiting your library first. That’s where I’ll be getting the rest of the trilogy from, if I decide to continue.
I received this book for free for review.