Wonderful and layered in ways similar to and different from My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante uses Elena’s move out of Naples to explore the division between not just Northern and Southern Italy, long a historical question of interest and study, but between the wealthy and the poor. As Elena studies in a prestigious university in Pisa, she struggles to break away from the things that readily identify her as Neapolitan: she hides her accent and feels great shame over her threadbare dress and shoes.
Both Elena and Lila realize in the book that there is something more than just money that separates the two of them from the wealthy: they both struggle with realizing that there is some ease or confidence that those above them in the social classes seem to have.
Beyond this, Elena cannot really escape the pull of the stradone and of Lila’s influence, which pull back from her studies &em; Elena often finds herself attempting to replicate her friends’ actions. Even when they spend significant time apart, Elena finds herself and her emotions bound up by what she hears and imagines of Lila.