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1-Page Summary of My Brilliant Friend
The novel starts with Elena Greco learning that her friend Lila Cerullo has gone missing. This strange turn of events prompts Elena to begin writing the story of their friendship, which begins in Naples in the 1950s. Elena and Lila meet each other at school when they’re young girls. They live near each other in a rough neighborhood where violent feuds are common, and families often share stories and secrets with one another. Lila is precociously intelligent, bold, and courageous; she attracts attention from others because of these traits, including Elena’s mild-mannered personality who becomes close friends with her despite being pushed outside of her comfort zone by Lila’s more assertive nature. The two witness several events together such as Donato Sarratore having an affair with Melina Cappuccio after his wife died or Don Achille Carracci’s murder.
Elena and Lila are both smart. Elena’s parents agree to pay for private lessons to help her pass the exam that will allow her to go into middle school, but Lila’s parents don’t let her take it.
Elena’s middle school years mark a transition in her friendship with Lila. Lila becomes more reserved and begins to cultivate friendships with other girls, including Carmela. Meanwhile, Elena struggles with the experience of puberty and eventually middle school itself. The neighborhood is also revitalizing due to local businesses’ success, including the Solara family’s pastry shop that expands into a bar. The two sons of the Solara family are very attractive but arrogant as well.
Lila, meanwhile, observes the changes in her family and hatches a plan to help them out. Her father owns a shoe repair shop but she wants to make shoes for people. She designs and makes a pair of men’s dress shoes with her brother Rino. Lila is also very intelligent and attractive which causes Elena to feel inferior around her.
In 1958, Lila and Elena are fourteen years old. Their friend Stefano Carracci throws a New Year’s Eve party that is notable because it marks his social acceptance after the death of his father, as well as because he invites many families who were previously considered pariahs in town. The night goes smoothly until the Solara brothers show up with their fireworks and start shooting at each other. That same night, Lila has an unusual experience that she doesn’t understand for some time afterward.
Rino presents the shoes he and Lila have been working on to their father without her permission. This upsets him, and as a result Lila loses interest in pursuing her dreams of being an artist.
A few months later, the Solara brothers step in and intervene a fight between Rino and some wealthier boys. Afterwards, Marcello begins visiting the shoe store regularly, spending time with Rino. Lila is suspicious since he has previously expressed romantic feelings towards her and been rejected. He also openly expresses his desire to marry her, which her parents want for her as well.
Elena goes on vacation. While there, she meets a family who has a son that attends her school. The boy is the object of Elena’s affection and they spend time together over the summer months. The boy leaves to go back to Naples in August and Elena continues spending time with his family, including his father (Donato Sarratore). A few weeks later, after returning home from vacation, Elena finds out from Lila that she is feeling threatened by Marcello and pressure from her family. Donato Sarratore approaches her at night while she is sleeping and kisses her inappropriately. He suggests that he sneak off with him the following day but doesn’t follow through on it because he knows what would happen if anyone found out about it.