This, without question, is a profoundly disturbing novel and it’s easy to see why it was so controversial when it was published in Italy in the early part of the decade. It will make you cringe but this is not to say that it’s a bad book. It isn’t. But Simona Vinci’s “What We Don’t Know About Children” will make you think for days after reading it. It is a searing indictment of how a society’s dark and disturbing aspects often leave childhood forever at risk.
The story is this: A group of kids, ranging from the ages 10-15, grow tired of the usual and typical games they are known to participate in. One day, one of the older kids introduces the group to a stack of new and strange magazines. In them are images they don’t quite understand nor have ever really seen before. So instead of playing their typical games, they begin to mimic what they see in the magazines. As time goes on, the new magazines become darker and more disturbing but they continue to mimic what they see in there, until one afternoon, something goes horribly wrong.
Disturbing, indeed. I don’t want to give away what happens but I can say that this is very risky territory for a novel; one that would probably never get past an editors desk much less published, not in this country anyway. This is not to imply that the writing in it is pornographic. It isn’t. Far from it. Vinci has a wonderful style, perfectly capturing the innocence of childhood, with all it’s questions and confusing aspects. But the subject matter of this novel is bound to make many a reader very uncomfortable, but that is precisely the point. It is a truly original take on “the loss of innocence” tale, albeit a very harsh and brutal take and definitely not for everyone; but at a short 140 pages, it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. It seems Vinci knew that traveling such a dark road certainly has its limits. A definite talent in the contemporary world of fiction. And a brave one at that.