Taz Deacon is excited to study abroad in the Italian city of Grifonia. It’s less obvious than Rome or Florence, but she’s intrigued by the city’s Etruscan history and hoping that the smaller renown of the city will make for a more authentic experience. But once Taz arrives, she isn’t really sure where she belongs—with the group of wealthy, beautiful women that she feels inadequate with or with her strange but appealing roommate, Claire, who has a mysterious charisma about her.
An ominous, atmospheric novel based on the Amanda Knox case, Abroad is populated with fascinating characters and emphasizes how Italy’s past is intimately tied to its present.
Two exchange students: one British, one American. An Italian city reminiscent of Perugia. The fact that, from the beginning, you know that the narrator will be murdered. If this sounds like it’s building up to an Amanda Knox-like case, well, then you’d be correct. Crouch wrote her novel keeping that now-famous murder case at the front of her mind. She traveled to Italy and spoke with people involved in the case. She wasn’t trying to solve the mystery, but instead get the atmosphere of her novel correct, and she did an incredible job with it. The atmosphere of Abroad is close and thick with tension and mystery, ominous as it builds chapter by chapter.
Taz is an interesting main character in Abroad. It would have been easy to portray her as a one-note character, as she’s so insecure and unsure of herself, but Crouch does a good job with her. She grows as the novel progresses, mostly because of her relationship with Claire. Her other friends only feed into her insecurities, but it’s Claire who encourages Taz to be herself and supports her.
It’s actually really interesting with Claire in Abroad as she’s barely a main character of the novel, despite her importance in the overall story. She doesn’t even show up until halfway through the book, and even after that, she only pops in here and there, enough to be a major presence but not enough to really understand much of anything about her. She remains enigmatic, a free spirit, who the reader knows is going to play a large role in Taz’s story.
The end result of Abroad, and the explanation of Taz’s murder, isn’t the most convincing or compelling, but it fits with what Crouch was trying to do: demonstrate how, in Italy, the past is intimately tied with the present. Overall, Crouch does an excellent job with her novel; the atmosphere is ominous, the characters fascinating and well-written, and the plot moves quickly, keeping the reader hooked from beginning to end.
Other books by Katie Crouch: