For Taz (Tabitha), a college student from Ireland, her year abroad in Italy starts innocently enough. As part of the Enteria program she'd chosen Grifonia for her year of foreign study. Her Italian is passable - not great, but enough to get by - and the city seemed a bit of a better choice than either Rome or Florence. Safer. Unfortunately for Taz her time in Grifonia will end in tragedy as her year abroad evolves into something quite different from the learning adventure she'd expected.
I'm finding it really difficult to piece together my thoughts on Katie Crouch's latest. It is a fabulous book - an emotionally draining book, but a fabulous one nonetheless. The story is inspired by the Amanda Knox trial - something Crouch admits to having become a bit obsessed with in this essay from 2011.
Last October, in my review of Jennifer duBois's Cartwheel - yet another book based on the case - I admitted that I really didn't know anything much about the trial. My curiosity about Abroad stemmed mostly from realizing it was a new direction of sorts in Crouch's writing (much of her other books are set in the South and aren't exactly what I'd describe as mysteries).
The story is told from Taz's perspective and as the doomed narrator there is a tension in simply waiting for her story to build to it's inevitable tragic end. She's a normal girl in every way. She craves acceptance, love, and friendship. She gets involved with a questionable crowd, but otherwise doesn't make any terrible decisions or go crazy in her year away from home. Instead, she explores the city and enjoys the freedom of being a young twenty-something in a college town.
But the town's history is one that's filled with tragedy. Crouch borrows a real group called the Compagnia della Morte to help build a backstory in which the women of Grifonia have never truly been safe. Profiles of other Compagnia assisted deaths are sprinkled throughout the book as Taz catches glimpses of these very same women throughout her story. They are heralds of Taz's fate, though it takes some time for that to become clear.
Ultimately Taz's story is one of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pieces of the story and the people involved all come together in a whirlwind of circumstance that seemingly can't be stopped.
Abroad has to go down as a favorite of mine this year. It was a powerful read, one that I found myself truly unable to tear myself away from. I apparently got a little too wrapped up in Taz's tale, too, considering how incredibly unsettled I felt upon turning the final page.