Stop all this talk about monsters, Michele. Monsters don’t exist… It’s men you should be afraid of, not monsters.

This quote contains the deeper meaning of Niccolò Ammaniti‘s novel. Published in 2001, I’m Not Scared celebrates its twenty anniversary in 2021 and has become a classic of Italian literature.

The book is part of the so-called cannibal narrative, born in Italy in the ’90s. It is not a real literary movement but more of a label that designates a series of novels with similar characteristics. Raw realism is the main one. These works also have elements attributable to the pulp genre. They present violent, horrific, amoral stories that clearly recall the themes of Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction (1994). This group of cannibal authors includes Enrico Brizzi, Matteo Galiazzo, Isabella Santacroce, Aldo Nove and others. Ammaniti is one of the most important exponents with works like I’m Not Scared, Mud, I’ll Steal You Away, and As God Commands.

The loss of innocence

I’m Not Scared is set in 1978 in a small town in southern Italy during burning summer. The protagonist, Michele, is a 9-year-old boy who, while playing with his friends, discovers a terrible secret that changes his life forever. In his village, someone has kidnapped a child and keeps him hidden in a hole under the ground. After this revelation, Michele enters into the cruelty of the adult world and abandons the light-heartedness of childhood.

The idea for the novel originates during Ammaniti’s trip to the south of Italy. While observing the landscape, the author notices a vast field of wheat. Suddenly, he begins to imagine that a dark secret could be hidden behind those ears.

A journey of growth and discovery

Page after page, I’m Not Scared transports the reader to the darker side of humanity. It is a coming-of-age novel in which the protagonist faces a path of inner growth. In fact, he finds himself having to choose between good and evil, between loyalty to his family or solidarity with another defenseless child.

The novel, acclaimed by critics, won in 2001 the Italian literary award The Viareggio Prize. A movie adaptation of the novel was released two years later. Gabriele Salvatores directed the film of the same name and Ammaniti himself wrote the screenplay.

With its simple and contemporary style, I’m Not Scared is a fluent reading that nevertheless brings to light human conflicts of great importance. Written in the first person, the novel plunges the reader into Michele’s world, inhabited by the typical monsters of childhood. But soon for the young boy, the magical period of games, bike rides and challenges between friends will come to an end. He will learn what true friendship, fidelity, and ultimately betrayal are.