Jenna Evans Welch’s favorite gelato flavor is bacio, a heavenly mixture of chocolate and hazelnut, which also happens to be the Italian word for “kiss.” She recalled, “I think my first summer in Tuscany I ate two or three scoops a day!” The author served up her own sweet blend of romance and wanderlust in her 2016 debut Love & Gelato (S&S), the first book in her bestselling Love & series of YA rom-coms set in alluring destinations. On June 22, the film adaptation of Love & Gelato premieres on Netflix.

The plot follows 17-year-old Lina Emerson (Susanna Skaggs; The Gifted, Halt and Catch Fire), who honors her dying mother’s final wishes by spending the summer in Rome with the father she never knew. In the Eternal City, Lina finds a new connection to her mother—in the form of the diary she kept during her own stay in Italy—while enjoying escapades with two handsome locals (played by Tobia De Angelis and Saul Nanni). The movie was written and directed by Brandon Camp (Beni), who also produced alongside Viola Prestieri. Gennaro Formisano served as executive producer.

“This story has been with me for more than half of my life,” Welch told PW. “I went to an international high school in Florence and one of my friends grew up in an American cemetery, where her father was the caretaker. My friend used to go running among the tombstones every morning. I remember at 17 thinking that would make a really great book!” Welch, who said she knew she wanted to write YA since she was a preteen, first started working on the book at 22. After seven years and several revisions, the book was published and became a bestseller.

Two more books followed in the series: Love & Luck (2018), set in Ireland, and Love & Olives (2020), set in Greece. The latter released during the height of the pandemic: in an interview with PW at the time, Welch said, “Who doesn’t need a mental vacation right now? I’m hoping this book provides the escape readers need and some normalcy.”

A few years ago, Welch was approached by several filmmakers who were interested in buying rights to Love & Gelato. Brandon Camp stood out. “He was so persistent,” she said. “I could tell he really wanted to make this movie. So I decided to sell the rights.” The project ended up landing at Netflix, which Welch called “her dream.” Welch said of the adaptation process, “I was very hands-off. I knew my limitations. I had a lot going on at that moment, as a writer and a mother. I felt the right thing to do was put the story into the hands of moviemakers I trusted.”

Of course, Covid complicated the production schedule, particularly shooting in Italy. “We hit all kinds of snags in the road. It’s kind of amazing the movie was made!” But overall, Welch said, the adaptation was “a beautiful experience.” And although she wasn’t able to visit the set because of Italy’s lockdown, she said she was transported back there by watching the film. “It was surreal watching these characters I created, in places I hung out as a teenager. I was constantly texting my friends from Italy: ‘Do you remember this?’ ”

Welch offered particular praise for the cast’s performances. “The thing I really cared about was the characters and the actors’ portrayal of them. I love the actors who play Lina—Susanna Skaggs—and Ren—Tobia De Angelis. They’re fantastic and I feel like their chemistry is really special. They definitely got to the heart of the story.” Readers will notice an alteration or two to the plot, all of which Welch endorses. “One of the big changes was having Addie, a character in the next book, Love & Luck, in Italy! She’s played by Angelika Washington [Moxie] and I think audiences are going to love her.”

Coming Attractions

Welch also has what she describes as a “witchy” new YA romance coming out September 27, Spells for Lost Things (S&S). “It’s my first book outside the Love & series,” she said. And it’s her first set in the U.S. “Still, I think there are many elements my current readers will recognize and love.” The novel follows a teenager named Willow who is whisked off to Salem, Mass., for the summer by her mother. There, Willow connects with Mason, a boy who has been in and out of the foster care system. Together they investigate Willow’s mysterious family roots in Salem. “I can’t get away from the exploring new places theme,” Welch said.

As for what she wants viewers to take from the Love & Gelato movie, Welch said, “I hope they walk away with the same feelings and the same love that I put into this story. It’s a love story but it’s also about found family and finding yourself. And it’s a story of grief, of Lina losing her mother and finding new aspects of her in this new place. I really feel the film captures that.”

Asked about the chances for future movie adaptations in the Love & series, Welch said, though there aren’t concrete plans, “I think there is a possibility!” As they say in Rome, “speriamo”: let’s hope so.