Title: White Like Milk, Red Like Blood
Author: Alessandro D’Avenia
Genre: YA, contemporary fiction
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication Date: December 17, 2013 (originally 2010)
Synopsis from GoodReads: “I was born on the first day of school, and grew up and became old in just two hundred days.”
And so Leo story begins. Just as The Fault in Our Stars captivated readers’ hearts, the Italian bestseller White Like Milk, Red Like Blood will draw you in with its quirky characters, and their bittersweet love story.
Alessandra D’Avenia’s novel has sold over a million copies in Europe, and was made into a film in April 2013. But don’t think of it as Italian: it’s universal, and a wonderfully unique and charming story.
Leo’s story is one of love and loss, and also of ordinary life: he’s an ordinary sixteen-year-old: loves to hang out with his friends, play soccer, and zip around on his “Bat-scooter.” Then a new philosophy teacher arrives who encourages his students to live intensely, and to follow their dreams. Leo’s dream is a girl called Beatrice, who he thinks is pure paradise. And then there’s Silvia—Leo’s friend, the anchor who holds him together when he learns that Beatrice has leukemia. The depression that threatens to drown him is white like snow—it is Beatrice who is red like blood, the color of life.
So does everyone remember me saying that I wasn’t going to accept any more review requests or request more books on NetGalley? Yeah, I thought so. Well… I wrote that blog post, and my new resolution to make myself less stressed by taking on books that only I want… and then this email pops up, asking if I want to review this book. And I was sucked in – hook, line, and sinker. The synopsis gave me chills, and I immediately downloaded the file to read. And let me tell you something: this was totally worth it. This was one of the best books I’ve read in a while, in a quietly powerful sort of way. It reminds me of all the best parts of Perks of Being a Wallflower, and all the best parts of The Fault In Our Stars. It was that good.
This was a very character driven book, and all of them were so well developed, even though most of them received hardly a chapter dedicated to them!
Leo: Leo was a bit pretentious (and there’s the TFiOS similarities), and was a bit overdramatic in everything he did and thought, but not in a bad way. His grandeur came more from the youthful idealism that he can conquer the world, because there is absolutely nothing that can take him down. And that’s the root struggle in this book – when faced with a friend’s death, and not even giving all the blood in your system can correct the problem, what then can you do? You can’t conquer anything, and so you’re lost. And that’s where Leo is for a lot of the book. He has such an enthusiasm and a zest for life – a hatred of white (nothingness, as he says) – and when faced with Beatrice’s illness, he’s faced with his own helplessness and inability to fix things. Beatrice is the purest red, and if she’s gone, only white is left. Leo has to come to terms with the occasional “whiteness” of life, and that journey is truly touching as he finds out what he values, what his dreams are, and if he truly loves Beatrice or just the idea of the vibrancy she brings to life.
Beatrice: Beatrice, despite her focal point in Leo’s mind, is actually a very minor character. She doesn’t really come into the story with actual dialogue until the very end, but she still remains as one of the most important character, simply because of the effect she has on Leo. Despite Leo describing her as beautiful, surrounded by friends, popular, and a million other positive/almost worshipful terms, Beatrice is very humble and quiet – a genuinely beautiful soul. She’s so much more than Leo thinks, and seeing him discover that about her (when we already knew her character) was incredible.
Silvia: Silvia was my favorite part, to be honest. She was such a solid, incredible friend to Leo: always there for him, texting even when she knows he won’t respond, and helping him try to establish a relationship with Beatrice despite her misgivings. She was so quiet – characterized as blue while Beatrice was red – but such a strong, steady presence. Even though she was really quiet, her actions were practically screaming from the page.
To be honest, the concept is nothing new. I mean, how else would they market it as an Italian-type TFiOS? It’s a cancer book, plain and simple. BUT – it’s so much more than that. It’s about growing up and hoping for a future and finding what truly makes you happy, realizing who your friends are and what role they play in your life, and confronting the hard stuff in life. And that’s where the Perks feeling comes in, without the childhood trauma and subsequent mental breakdown.
The plot, as you can probably guess, was a little bit slower, because it was focused on the characters and their thoughts and small moments. But it never felt like I was just waiting for something to happen – I was okay with floating along at a snail’s pace, and just being wrapped into these lives and their struggles and hopes.
Stunning. Absolutely stunning. This book was written with so much color, literally and metaphorically. The symbolism attached to red, white, and blue was so flawlessly done, and it was honestly my favorite part of the book. This is poetry, just written in prose format. I don’t like audiobooks, but I could easily listen to this being read all day to me. It ebbs and flows, and the entire style circles back to Silvia’s role in the story, and how Leo associates her with water.
If I can be bold (and of course I can – it’s my blog), I’d venture to say that White Like Milk, Red Like Blood, was even better than TFiOS. It has a more eternal quality to it – a focus that is greater than young love and it’s tragedies. There’s so much hope and passion infused in every chapter that I couldn’t help but cry at the end, not because it was sad, but because there was this shining light despite the sorrow. It just filled me with this warm happiness that I can’t quite describe – one of those quietly beautiful books.
This is one book that everyone needs to read, and I wish it was in print and not just Kindle so I could put it on my shelves. I’ll be keeping my eye out for when it’s released in paperback, and snatching up a copy for sure!
My Final Rating:
Food for thought (sound off in the comments!)
If you’ve read the book:
- Did you like Silvia or Beatrice better? Which girl do you think was a better influence on Leo?
- How did you feel about the Dreamer’s role in Leo’s personal journey? Was he unnecessary, or was he the adult presence needed to balance out Leo’s dramatics?
If you haven’t:
- Are you always a little hesitant when a new book is marketed as the “next [fill in the blank]”? Do you find that the new book compares to the other one, or it’s just a hoax?
- How do you feel about using teen cancer as a plot device in a lot of YA books these days? Is it a cheap way to make money and tug on heartstrings, or do you think it’s important to recognize that even young adults aren’t immune to serious illness?