I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti, translated from the Italian by Jonathan Hunt, is a thriller that slowly builds rather than one that grabs you from the start. This is not to say that the opening sections are dull, quite the contrary. But I’m Not Scared is a thriller that truly earns its big finish, not one that has thrown every horrifying twist and turn imaginable into the story right from the beginning like so many others do.
I’m Not Scared is narrated by ten-year-old Michele who lives with his little sister Maria and his mother and father in a small country town in Southern Italy. His small group of friends spend the hot summer months holding various contests and making the loser pay a forfeit by taking on a particular dare. When Michele has to pay a forfeit by going in to an old abandoned farmhouse he discovers the body of a boy his own age at the bottom of a deep hole. Is the boy alive? Why is he there?
Michele is ten and he treats the situation as an ten-year-old would, not as an adult would. Instead of telling someone about the boy, Filippo, Michele is too worried about getting into trouble himself to do that, he tries to befriend him. Ten is an age when simple things can be wonderful, like a bicycle, or an old farm house. Finding a boy at the bottom of a hole is a fantastic secret, one worth having and worth keeping. Michele brings him food and water with no notion of just how serious his situation is, until he overhears his father and a couple of strangers having a conversation about Filippo.
I can go no further without giving away too much. I’m Not Scared does not become a page turner until the closing scenes of the book, but I would not view this as a fault. The opening scenes take their time, like a lazy summer day, the tension builds slowly, but it definitely builds. By the end of the novel, I’m Not Scared became very hard to put down.
I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2008. While I haven’t read more work by Ammaniti, this is one of the books that got me interested in literature in translation. I’ve made it a regular part of my reading ever since. I consider it one of the best changes blogging about books has brought to my reading habits.