Growing up in post World War Two Naples, Elena Greco and Rafaella (Lila) Cerullo are two young girls with brains and ambition, qualities that set them apart from most other residents of the stifling, impoverished neighbourhood in which they live. Their corner of the world is riddled with violence and death, to which the girls are exposed with startling regularity. Husbands beat wives, parents beat children, and families go to war with one another, constantly flinging hideous insults and threats back and forth, fighting in the streets, and killing in private. Yet even within this world, dominated by barbarism and ignorance, Elena and Lila retain a sense of childish innocence and wonder, dreaming of things beyond the constraints of their town and aspiring toward a life better than that which they have known. Ferrante paints an intimate portrait of the two young protagonists, who, while shaped by the dynamics of the Neapolitan town where they grow up and therefore in some ways inextricably tied to it, seem always to remain somewhat separate from it. When the novel begins, the girls are in first grade and, while fighting rages on around them between widows and wronged wives, rich men and poor men, fascists and communists, Elena and Lila take refuge in school and in one another. The mild-mannered and timid Elena is used to being top of the class, until the day the teacher discovers that the bold, often misbehaved Lila has taught herself to read. From this moment on begins a tale of a complex and sometimes harmful friendship that will span the course of both girls’ lives, until Lila disappears without a trace at sixty years old. The story depicts the intricacies of female friendship and love with unparalleled honesty and accuracy. It perfectly encapsulates the way that feelings of rivalry and jealousy may become intertwined with feelings of admiration, emulation, and love. Cruelty and competition coexist with deep affection and attachment. Though the girls’ lives begin to go in different directions when Elena enters middle school and Lila is instead forced by her parents to begin work, they continue to impact and shape one another throughout their childhood and adolescence. Each is a highly developed and unique individual, and yet is undoubtedly formed in some ways through the other. As told from the perspective of the more reserved Elena, the story manages to encapsulate incredibly complex characters and dynamic relationships with exceptional subtlety. Through the lens of this one friendship in this one town, Ferrante deals with issues mostly universal to childhood and adolescence, such as the parent-child relationship, insecurity, jealousy, romance, desire, and sexual exploration. Simultaneously, Lila and Elena’s friendship serves as a vessel by which Ferrante also examines wider themes, such as that of the inherent misogyny engrained in society, violence against women, access to education, poverty, inherited wounds of previous generations, and modernization, to name a few. Despite dealing with serious and sometimes unpleasant issues, the captivating characters, as well as Ferrante’s writing style, render My Brilliant Friend an incredibly compelling read. Her clarity and frankness makes the story easy to understand and interesting to read, enlivening even topics or moments that would otherwise be considered mundane, such as the manufacturing of a shoe or the study of Latin grammar. Endowing simple and complicated things alike with both meaning and excitement, this book is unlike any I have ever read. It is touching and thought provoking, without ever being trite. Honest, refreshing, and enthralling from start to end, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, as I believe it is truly a must-read.