It is not by chance that author NiccolËœ Ammaniti sets his third novel, a riveting tale of a boy's coming of age, in the ironically named Acqua Traverse (literally translated as "water crossings"), for it is the summer of 1978, and the fictional southern Italian village is scorched by record-breaking heat and parched by drought. Here, where nine-year-old Michele Amitrano lives with his younger sister and their parents amid the four other households that make up the tiny community, lack of rain has caused the land to sear and hearts to wither. But all is not as drowsy and sunburnt as it seems in the daytime. Night brings the village adults to Michele's house for cabal-like meetings while he sleeps, in turn awakening Michele to his father's true nature.
Told convincingly in the first person by an adult Michele, I'm Not Scared is translated here by Jonathan Hunt from Ammaniti's native Italian (the book has already become a runaway bestseller in Italy, where it was first published). With similarities to Stephen King's The Body upon which the hit movie Stand By Me was based I'm Not Scared is as much a compelling study of one boy's awakening to the literal horrors of real life as it is a parable of trust gained and lost, dreams realized and shattered. When Michele one day sets off with his sister and their four friends on a journey to explore an abandoned farmhouse on a nearby hill, little does he know that he will soon uncover a secret so horrible and unbelievable that it will change his world forever. In a scene that eerily echoes William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, the children claim the hill as their own in a base and gruesome way, foreshadowing that life in Acqua Traverse will never be the same.
Haunting passages and subtle snippets of Italian life make I'm Not Scared a highly effective look at how our ideas and perceptions as children are dictated by the "reality" our parents and other adults shape for us. When Michele discovers the world-shattering truth on the hill, he learns a hard lesson: that life is not always what it seems and that trust can be as easily lost as it is gained. Thomas A. Grasso lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.