Friday, October 13, 2006

Penny From Heaven - by Jennifer L. Holm

The next few reviews will probably have summaries from the publisher to save me a little time as I try to catch up.

From the Publisher: It's1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing's that easy in Penny's family. For starters, she can't go swimming because her mother's afraid she'll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her father's name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family aren't speaking to each other!

EVERYONE seems to love this book. There are glowing reviews everywhere and if you pick up this book, you will probably love it too so I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I did not love Penny From Heaven. Here’s where the confession gets even more shocking; I think it’s because it sort of reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, which I also did not enjoy (pause for gasps). Ok, let me explain; I know Anne is beloved by many, but I just cringe thinking about all of the crazy situations a “good” kid got herself into. Reading her story I constantly wanted to yell at her to stop what she was doing because I loved her, and I couldn’t stand the anticipation of the trouble she was going to get into. My relationship with Penny was much the same. The story, like’s Anne’s, wasn’t really plot driven, it was more of a slice of her life. Penny kept doing things that I knew would not end well, and I wanted to stop reading to avoid getting to the trouble that I knew was coming. Oh Penny why do you always have to go along with Frankie’s crazy plans?

It didn’t help that I was listening to Penny From Heaven in my car over the same few days that I was reading the Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman at home and since they were set during the same time period and about girls the same age, I kept comparing the two and I related to Francine a lot more. I also felt like I picked up a lot more knowledge about the time period from The Loud Silence of Francine Green so readers wanting to pick up more of a sense of how kids might have been affected by what was going on at the time, might prefer The Loud Silence (although they will learn from Penny From Heaven that some Italian Americans were imprisoned during WWII because some Americans thought of them and the enemy).

And even though I haven’t seen it in anyone else’s review, the prominent stereotypes of Italian Americans in Penny From Heaven bother me quite a bit. Of course Penny’s Italian grandmother has lived in the United States for ages, but hasn’t picked up much English and spends all her time cooking and takes joy in trying to fatten her family up. She’s extremely emotional and always fighting with her daughter-in-law or crying when someone mentions Penny’s father. The character that really bothered me was Penny’s cousin Frankie, and Italian American kid whose dad was in prison who just wanted to grow up to be a gangster and spent all his time reading about them and scheming up plans for his own crimes. Really, did the book have to go there? Do you know a lot of kids who want to grow up to become a famous criminal?

All of that aside, Penny's complicated family relationships are truly touching and I put down the book feeling happy in the end as I suspect many of you will too.


I am Laura said...

Ok -- How can you not like Anne of Green Gables? I am now wanting to read this book because of your review. CRAZY!!! I am shocked.

I am Laura said...

You didn't like Anne of Green Gables? Yes, I am shocked and I did gasp. I now look forward to reading "Penny from Heaven".

Linda said...

I really enjoyed PENNY FROM HEAVEN because I found the Italian characters so true-to-life! Mostly I find books with Italian-Americans either being Mafia-crazy or they do not sound like Italians. I grew up in a similar family; none of these people were stereotypes! Both sets of my grandparents spoke little English, although they understood a good deal of it. I remember having dinner at a restaurant in the late 60s (my last Italian grandparent, Papa, my dad's father, died in 1972) where my dad had to translate everything Papa said to the waitress. My godmother lived with her mother, and a neighbor with her mother, and neither mother spoke English (they both died in the 1960s). All of them made their own macaroni and gravy (we never called it pasta and sauce...that was "MED-I-GONE"..."American"). Everyone had a vegetable garden in the back yard. We made tomato preserves for the gravy from scratch in the fall, went to the church feasts where the older people all still spoke Italian among themselves, and I knew several boys my age (I am now 51) who admired gangsters or who knew the guys who ran "the numbers." We went to a chicken market with live chickens to get our chicken. Again, this is all in the 1960s, so Penny's Italian family life is spot on for 1953. I have some essays about "growing up Italian" on the website