"Things That Happened Before the Earthquake"

This is an engaging story about Eugenia, an Italian teen brought to this country by her parents who have stars in their eyes about the possibilities in America. Her father fancies himself a filmmaker, having been in a commercial on Italian television for Italian spam, along with the rest of the family.

Eugenia says, doubtfully, “A rich destiny awaited us on the other side of the ocean.” Her father has the promise of a “contact” in Los Angeles to provide financial backing for a movie, and his excitement prevents him from considering the possible downsides of such an offer.

The family – Eugenia, her parents, her younger brother and maternal grandmother – plus the ashes of her paternal grandmother, which they smuggle into the country with them, find themselves in Los Angeles, “The home of the stars!” and Eugenia’s parents become so heavily involved in their own interest that the teen is left largely on her own to discover this new country. She is not so much neglected as seeming to become invisible to them.

The televised beating of Rodney King and the resulting Los Angeles riots  happened as the family was preparing their move, and watching the riots on Italian TV provoked a great deal of anxiety for Eugenia. She discovers, however, that her world in Los Angeles is more fascinating and exciting than dangerous, and she sets out to learn about her new world which involves, as the old saying goes, “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.”

Eugenia meets several young men of varying interest to her, but who introduce her to sexual activity of little passion. That changes when she meets Deva, a mysterious girl to whom Eugenia is strongly attracted, and who introduces her to homosexual sex, though neither girl is gay. Deva has ambivalent feelings about people in her life at the moment, except for her father, and you’re left wondering just what direction those feelings have taken.

The earthquake referenced in the title is the event that, along with her father’s inevitable disappointment and failure, leads the family to return to Italy.

Considering the terrible situations nowadays that some teens encounter when left with little supervision or family contact, this story is a light on the horizon. We’re not living in the simpler times of the early 1990s, but most of our kids, like Eugenia, come through the storms pretty well.