The first book I picked up from the YA section of the Harvey Milk Memorial Branch of my new SF library home was love you two, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli. It is about the abrupt maturation of Pina, a sixteen year-old of strong Italian descent growing up in Adelaide, Australia. When she finds out that her hippy mother is polyamorous—in love with and in an open relationship with both her husband and another man—Pina’s world is understandably rocked. But she is just touching the tip of the iceberg, and in the course of the next 300-some pages she encounters just about every type of love you could imagine.
Until she stumbles across her mother’s email, Pina’s greatest concerns are battling the buildup of pounds on her tummy and zits on her face. But that innocent email reveals the loving but confusing relationship her mother has been in with both her husband and boyfriend. In a moment of anger at this new side of her mother, Pina gives up her virginity, but regrets it immediately. Hurt and confused, she flees the mess to stay with her uncle Don and his Vietnamese partner, Wei Lee. But the relationships around her refuse to fit in their previous nice boxes, and as she finds more and more definitions of “love,” the ties of her own family begin to come undone.
Poor Pina just wants some normalcy after discovering her mother’s secret. But everyone she meets seems to challenge her conceptions in new and often difficult ways. Uncle Don is bi-sexual, a neighbor maintains a fiction for his family while he dies of AIDS, the mother of her homophobic best friend just moved in with another woman, and her grandfather had a son with another woman before her staunchly proper Italian grandmother. The book takes place in the current day, where homosexuality has gained something of a cultural acknowledgement if not acceptance, but Pina is still faced with a huge number of yet more diverse manifestations of the ways 6ish billion people can find to love each other. At heart, it’s about relationships: mother-daughter, familial, inter-racial, hetero and homosexual, with the future and with the past.
At the end of the day, Pina’s acceptance of her mother is one of the easier choices facing her, and you spend a lot of time waiting for her to get there. And as might be expected, almost every one of the varying types of love is portrayed positively, rationally, and in a pretty clearly biased light (of course the dying gay man chooses Pina to give a special gift to, even if they’ve only met 30 seconds ago). However, the portrayal of the Christmas meal with Pina’s extended family is much more complicated and thus, interesting. Three generations and about 100 different kinds of love clash over the table, and it’s a lot more challenging to pick a side, proving that Pallotta-Chiarolli can write like hell when she wants to. Also of note is the pitch-perfect example of traditional Italian family dynamics and the Australian street slang. Pezzi di pane!
Pina herself is a pretty typical sixteen year-old; up until she finds the incriminating email, she sees about as far ahead as the end of her nose. She does some emotional damage to others and to herself , but most of the story is a teenager trying to wrap her head around what she has been told is wrong, or what she never even knew existed. By the end of the book, she has managed to gain a more long-sighted perspective far beyond her years. She isn’t going to be the poster-child for polyamourous relationships, but her small act of support for her mother is the teenage equivalent of petitioning Washington.
Thus I’m creating another rating for the PSA – Jennifer Garner. This rating is for a really awesome chick, saddled with a mediocre story. On her own she’s the best, but because her plot/writing/etc is so weak, she’s likewise weakened. I.e. Pina is genuinely interesting, likeable, and relatable (what would you do if you found out your mother was having an affair but that your father was okay with it?) but Pallota-Chiarolli’s obvious bias towards these other couples makes it a lot harder to swallow her message without question. Thus love you two rates a JG on the PSA.
“May you hover like butterflies and only land on flowers that are open to hold you.”