Twelve-year-old Sofia Abramsky-Sze, a friend of a PW staffer who reads more than most adults, recently picked up the first book of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend. She was done with the fourth book in the series, The Story of the Lost Child, only a few weeks later. PW talked to Sofia about Ferrante's books, and how they compare with other books she's read recently.
Why did you read Ferrante? How did you first come across the novels?
I started reading Elena Ferrante this past summer. The main reason? I am a very avid reader and I always run out of books, so I was bored. I picked up the first one, My Brilliant Friend, and started to leaf through it. Another reason is that the first book features a bride on the cover. Well, I am a hopeless romantic at heart, often devouring teen tales of love, so I couldn’t resist. Finally, my father told me they were good and he said I should read the Ferrante novels.
What were your reading habits with the series? When did you start reading the first book, and when did you finish the fourth one? Do you read in large chunks of time? On your way to school?
I am one of those people who cannot tear their eyes off the pages of a book. Once I started reading the Ferrante books, I retreated into my room, and barely came out until I had finished the current book in the series. Then I would look up, bleary-eyed, and become aware of my surroundings. So, I think saying I read in large chunks of time is an understatement. I read each Ferrante book in 2 days. I started reading the books in July 2015 and finished in late August, but only because I got the 4th one after I had finished the others. I probably could have finished them in a week. On another note, I am not really the type of person to read on my way to school (even if I wanted to, I walk to school), because, as I said, I read in large chunks of time.
What parts/scenes did you most identify with?
I didn’t identify with any specific scenes. However, I did identify the most with Book 1, that of childhood. In My Brilliant Friend, Lila and Elena are about my age, still untainted (mostly) by their lifelong, complicated relationship. I also identified for other reasons. You see, I am quite young. Just 12. So, this is a novelty.
What parts/scenes do you remember? What is the most memorable thing about the books?
A memorable scene would have to be the part where Lila, in a fit of childish rage, throw’s Elena’s beloved doll, Tina, into a cellar. Elena, in retaliation, does the same with Lila’s doll. This shows a trend which will replay throughout their lives: Lila does something spirited, Elena follows. This also symbolizes childhood and its whims. Another not easily forgotten part is Lila’s wedding, the extravagant affair of a 16 year old and the man she thought she loved. This symbolizes the end of childhood, the start of womanhood. There are more scenes, but I’m not a spoiler.
Why do you love them so much? What is it specifically that you think the books do better than other books you've read?
I really love the vivid, yet formal style that Elena Ferrante incorporates into her work. Also, I would have to say the main reason is that Elena Ferrante makes up an awesome story, with tons of drama and real struggles, with characters who are together, break up, teach, write, live their lives.
How do the books compare to other things you've been reading recently?
The books, as I have said, are amazing. I cannot really compare them to other books, because I normally read teen novels, which are spoken in a much freer language. They feel like an informal teen is narrating. They also use slang that teenagers would use. However, the Ferrante novels are from the perspective of an adult, old Elena. Even when Lila and Elena were children or adolescents, the narration is like that of an adult. I like both styles. The Neapolitan Novels use great adjectives and details to transport readers into 20th century Italy. In the end, I felt as though I were in Naples, or Florence, or wherever Elena happened to be.
Would you recommend them to other readers your age?
The Neapolitan Novels are very mature books that opened my eyes to struggles adults might know that I have not yet faced. They were about sexuality and violence, sometimes in disturbing ways. I sometimes read really good books I wish I could just keep in my head forever, but the Ferrante books take this to a whole new level. Although there were some inappropriate or violent scenes, those can be found in many books, such as The Hunger Games. What is a true rarity, however, is the quality of writing found in the Elena Ferrante books. I would not recommend these books to most kids, but to adults, teenagers, or some children who want to read the best books of the past few years, go for it!
What are you going to read next?
I don’t really know. Since the Ferrante books, I have read others, but none that well-written.