“Abroad,” bestselling author Katie Crouch’s new novel is ripped from the headlines of the Amanda Knox murder case. Crouch has fully imagined the temptations and dangers that could turn a student studying abroad into a defenseless murder victim by combining the details of a true-crime with ancient histories and myths.
Students from all over have come to Grifonia, a fictional Italian city filled with secrets of a violent past, to study abroad. For Tabitha, who narrates the story, the beginning of her tale is like so many others:
You see, it all started very simply. A girl packed a suitcase full of soap and clean underwear and went to Italy. She was young – open as an empty highway. She met some people there. Love happened. And then, her ending began.
Tabitha, or Taz, has come to Italy from Ireland to reinvent herself “to be someone different from who I was” in this ancient Etruscan city as so many students do in cities all over the world. But she is quickly asked to join a group of rich, reckless girls – popular girls who ignored her back at her home university. Their sudden, surprising attention is undeniably flattering to Taz, who follows them blindly to heady experiences – like a glamorous house party in an ancient castle -- that seem, at first glance, to be the embodiment of Taz’s dreams of a sophisticated new life.
Along the way, she befriends an American housemate who eventually appropriates the man Taz herself had fallen for. The complex nature of love and friendship are called into question by Taz, as the characters rush toward an inevitable, drug-fueled clash and horrific conclusion.
Crouch questions the meaning of studying abroad. A professor tells Taz:
“You know, this all used to mean something. . . . Girls who went abroad, they were breaking out. It was a sexual revolution. . . . You girls, you have no idea why you’re in Italy or what you are doing. You could be in your own living room. You just like that the colors on the wall are different.”
Crouch has imagined a fairly plausible explanation of what may have happened in the Amanda Knox case. What grounds “Abroad” is her very real, empathic understanding of the tensions and desires of young women who – like most travelers – long to reshape themselves. “I think it’s the wanting. . . . It doesn’t matter when it is or who we are. The wanting never stops,” Taz says at one point.
“Abroad” is a compulsively readable page-turner that goes down like a glass of Umbrian red. Gulp it down!
"Abroad" is available on amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores.