book review: Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini


Doubleday Books, August 2017

What an aptly titled book: “Things That Happened.” This is a book about things happening – one after another in monotonous succession. Well, it’s actually about an Italian girl, Eugenia, who relocates to Los Angeles with her family in the 1990s, but where it endeavors to be a candid coming of age story, it falls short with a pace that languishes and a promise of emotional poignancy that never really delivers. I was unable to form an emotional connection with any of these characters, and the whole thing came across as rather trite.

Where Things That Happened Before the Earthquake failed for me was the style of narration. It was cold and detached in a way that I’m unable to reconcile with the POV of a teenage girl who’s been uprooted from her home and transported into a different culture. Eugenia envelops herself in what she refers to as her “rubber suit” – she remains purposefully detached from a lot of what transpires around her, and the narrative result is that it’s almost impossible to understand her behavior or personality. She seems more mature than your average 15 year old while also making a lot of terrible teenage decisions.

Having read this, I now completely understand why no one seems to know whether to classify this novel as adult or YA. On the one hand, it deals with teenage issues – sex, love, identity – but on the other hand, there’s some seriously dark and graphic stuff in here. Trigger warning for animal abuse, and… kind of rape? I guess? Minor spoiler: Eugenia’s first time having sex is… potentially non-consensual but then swept under the rug by the narrative and never really addressed again, and that whole thing made me really uncomfortable.

But onto the good – this is a 3 star review after all. Contrary to my chronic tendency toward negativity, I didn’t hate this book. Chiara Barzini is a fantastic writer, and even through Eugenia’s detached narration, Barzini’s prose shines. This story is told with unflinching honesty and humor, and at times it’s a delight to read.

Ultimately: I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. This was just a kind of monotonous read that I wanted to end much sooner than it did.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley, Doubleday Books, and Chiara Barzini.


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