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What's the story?
Penny's father is long dead, and no one will tell her what happened to him. She lives with her mother and grandparents, who live a rather dull and straitlaced life. But her father's family lives nearby -- grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins -- and they're anything but straitlaced.
Her cousin/best friend, Frankie, wants to be a criminal -- just like his incarcerated father. Penny's Uncle Dominic lives in his car by choice and harbors a sad secret. Her Aunt Gina and her grandmother, Nonny, live in the same house but can't stand each other, so they have separate kitchens. And now, much to Penny's chagrin, her mother is dating the milkman. PENNY FROM HEAVEN includes an Author's Note, a family album of photos, and resources.
Is it any good?
The first half of Penny from Heaven is a slow but evocative and nostalgic slice of life in a '50s Italian family in suburban New Jersey. It makes reference to the fear of polio, saying "swell," rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, eating abundantly, etc. Getting through this part takes patience and real reading experience.
Things pick up in the second half, when a terrible accident leads to secrets revealed and families reconciled. It's all beautifully written and fascinating (though perhaps more to adults than to most kids), and it reveals a true but little-known historical event.