REVIEW: Mafia Girl by Deborah Blumenthal
Dear Ms. Blumenthal,
I have a soft spot for fictional criminals, especially fictional criminal families. Look at my love of Ally Carter’s Heist Society books and Holly Black’s Curseworker trilogy. Your novel caught my eye right away. I don’t think I’ve ever read a YA novel told from the POV of a don’s daughter.
Gia, as the titular mafia girl, is the only daughter of the local mob boss. Thanks to her family’s money (no matter how ill-gained), she attends one of the most prestigious private schools in the city. Sure, because of her family’s background, she’s not the most popular girl at school but who cares?
Despite her family’s criminal background, she does have a dream. A secret one, known only by one other person: her father. It’s one that’ll take her beyond the mafia life. But then, one day, while skipping school with her BFF, she’s pulled over for drunk driving by the very hot Officer Michael Cross and her life begins to change.
So let’s get the ugly out of the way. This book was a mess. It’s not the most random book I’ve ever read, but that’s hardly a standard. It needed something more to tie all the various subplots together. Maybe it just needed a main plot. Is this the story of a mafia girl trying to go straight and become legit, to help the helpless and those who can’t help themselves? Is this the story of a girl with a scandalous background becoming a media darling? Is it the tale of an underdog running for president of her high school? Or is it the story of a girl who falls in love with the wrong guy? I have no idea. All of these things take place over the course of the book but I have no idea which one was the most important.
Gia is not the most likeable character. I’m fine with that. After all, I like the unlikeable female characters and considering her background, that personality trait is hardly surprising. What I struggled with was how shallow her characterization was. She was a walking stereotype of spoiled, rich girl. Considering what her dream ultimately turned out to be, I would have expected her character to show a more humanitarian side. The only time it really comes out is with the pit bull.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Mafia Girl Gia and Officer Michael. Gia is 17 years old. I’m not sure how old Michael is. I thought him to be in his early to mid-20s. I’m just not okay with this. I know this is maybe splitting hairs. I would have been okay with it if Gia were 18 and there certainly have been similar age differences in new adult novels. But I just could not get around the fact that Gia was underaged and Michael was her arresting officer. Michael is not a college boy. He’s a police officer. It made me feel gross.
What made it worse is that Gia pretty much stalks Michael. I think we’re supposed to read this behavior as cute and empowering because here’s an aggressive young woman going after the guy she wants. But that guy turned down her advances. Yes, he’s attracted to her but she comes from a criminal family and she’s underaged. He wants no part of that. He’s old enough to know that some things are bad for you and that there are lines you shouldn’t cross. I know we’re supposed to see this as a romance against all odds, between people from two different worlds, But I found nothing about this romantic. Not Gia’s refusal to accept Michael’s “no.” Not the way she finds out what bar he hangs out at after work and keeps going there to “run into” him. Not when she tracks down his home address. What do you call this?
The biggest disappointment was that lack of mafia shenanigans. With a hooky title like Mafia Girl, you’d expect there to be. But Gia is conveniently kept in the dark and knows nothing about her father’s shady underworld dealings. Mind you, a good chunk of that is willful ignorance in my opinion and deliberate naivete. Maybe mafia princesses aren’t supposed to know what their fathers do. But if you make a big deal about someone’s criminal family, I expect more firsthand criminal shenanigans to happen. As it was, Gia could have been a privileged socialite out of Gossip Girl.
In the end, my favorite parts were the domestic home life Gia had with her family. The awkward moments she had with her older brother who tries to comfort her in his gruff way. The mother who shows her love through food and cooking. These interactions were familiar and comforting. Even her father’s role as the patriarch who’s done with his daughter’s nonsense. In some ways, I think that made the lack of mafia shenanigans even more disappointing because I felt there was a missed opportunity for a more immediate contrast between Gia’s father the patriarch and Gia’s father the mafia don.
I can almost grasp what Mafia Girl was trying to accomplish. The story of a girl from a criminal family trying to find an identity and life outside of it. But the lack of focus and some unsavory elements just failed to bring it to life. D