Renee Riva File:
Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Taking Tuscany by Renee Riva
"Proficiently mixing deeper themes and spiritual truths alongside the humor, Riva has crafted a lovely tale of longing and belonging readers of all ages will savor."
Ten-year-old A.J. Degulio burst onto the scene in Renee Riva’s first novel, Saving Sailor, with a voice reminiscent of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. Her quirky sense of humor, crazy Italian family, and animal loving ways quickly earned her a place alongside the best of literature’s coming-of-age characters. But as kids grow older, their voices change, and I wondered if our friend A.J. would retain her innocence and wit in Taking Tuscany. No worries. The girl we came to love is still here. She’s just a little older and maybe a tad wiser, but she’s still A.J. Now thirteen and living with her family in Italy, she’s ditched her fake southern accent but still feels like a misfit. It doesn’t help that she’s the only blonde haired, fair skinned Italian in her family, is more comfortable with animals than kids her own age, and her only friend has become a nun.
If there’s a theme to Riva’s novels, it’s straight from her own life: La famiglia e tutto, family is everything. We see it in Taking Tuscany, just like we did in Saving Sailor. Sure, the Degulios are quirkier than most families. Mom Sophia gets a kick out of pretending she’s Sophia Loren, complete with giving out autographs. Grandma Juliani’s starting to lose her marbles. Aunt Genevieve and Uncle Nick have painted their villa blue. But through it all the Degulios never lose their love for each other, challenged as it is at times.
There’s something incredibly refreshing about Riva’s tales
of a more innocent time (in this case 1972 Italy), where the biggest challenges
at school are an enemy sticking gum in your hair, or deciding whether to
let a cute boy walk you home. But no matter what A.J. faces, she knows
she will always have her family. And Danny and Sailor. She keeps in touch
with her childhood crush and beloved dog still living in Idaho via letter
writing, and throughout Taking Tuscany we watch Danny and A.J.’s
friendship flourish through pen and ink. A.J. still longs to return to
what she’ll always call home, but at least Danny’s photos and
kind words sustain her.
Renee Riva may be an as yet undiscovered gem in Christian fiction, but she won’t be for long if she continues to write books like Taking Tuscany. Proficiently mixing deeper themes and spiritual truths alongside the humor, Riva has crafted a lovely tale of longing and belonging readers of all ages will savor.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.