BOOK REVIEW: Love You Two by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (Random House Australia, 2008)

Oct 1, 2009 | 2009 Fall - Visibility, Articles, Reviews

Reviewed by Lara Zielinsky

Love You Two is the story of teenage Pina’s discovery that her parents’ loving marriage—and the relationships all around her—are far from “normal” or “idyllic.” Her assumptions shattered, her journey through Love You Two is her process of coming to terms with how the many sexual and relationship permutations she encounters are encouraged or discouraged.

Guiseppina, Pina to her friends and family, is a typical teen girl. She has friends with fighting parents, and sees her own parents as embarrassingly “woggy” (a pejorative term) in their loving relationship. She is on the verge of firsttime sex with her own boyfriend, and has an antagonistic relationship with her younger brother.

At the start of the story, Pina accidentally reads an email her mother left open on the family computer, signed off with a phrase her mother uses often for expressing love to Pina and her brother Leo, “Love you t(w)oo.” Her mother appears to be having an affair with a family friend, “Uncle Nathan,” and her father seems to be aware of it, as the email her mother, Gianna sent to Nathan was copied to Pina’s father, Renato.

Pina then pilfers her mother’s journal searching for more clues, horrified by the revelation that this has been going on for years without her knowledge, and curious/ bothered that her father can be “all right” with it. Through her mother’s words of uncertainty, Pina is sent into an emotional tailspin, trying to figure out what is real in her “normal, envied” life. Pina can’t confide in her friends, and she has a bad experience with her boyfriend while searching for the emotional truth.

Escaping to her Uncle Don’s home by taking an overnight bus to Melbourne, Pina tries to get her head around everything and learns her Uncle’s own hidden truths, as a bisexual man committed to a Vietnamese woman, Wei Lee. Her uncle has named his home “Narnia,” and like the world discovered through the wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis classics, it is a place where everyone lives openly. Their friends represent the full spectrum of sexuality and through encounters with these friends Pina’s eyes are opened to the many ways people express their love. She becomes more aware there are ‘borders’ and people hide their true selves—and the many different reasons why.

She works through the why by turning resentful and sad for those hidden lives, when she and Don and Wei Lee travel to Adelaide for the annual Christmas with family. The tension explodes and more old wounds are opened, but with the opening perhaps a healing of their family can at last begin.

It could be argued the author took on too much—trying to tell too broad a story with Pina encountering so many different kinds of loving relationships. However, each encounter is told with great care and love. Readers will moved by Pina’s interactions with John and his partner in Melbourne. Each encounter adds to the nuanced lesson Pina finally weaves into her own life decisions as the story winds to its close.

Choosing to set Pina within a heavily traditional Catholic-Italian family keeps the contrasts sharp between the choices, and the theme obvious. The story avoids stereotypes, mostly owing to the realness of the dialogue, and Pina’s inner monologues.

Love You Two is a winner with its accurate teen ‘voice’ and the realism of the struggle with sexuality in all its permutations viewed from the perspective of a person just stepping out to discover her own sexual being. The themes of expectation versus reality, societal “norms” versus living unfilled, are repeated throughout.

Lara Zielinsky lives in central Florida. She writes and edits fiction for a variety of publishers, and hosts a radio show sharing authors and works of fiction for lesbian and bisexual women.

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