Monday, September 18, 2006

Review: Penny From Heaven

Two things struck me as I read Jennifer L. Holm's latest novel, Penny From Heaven. The first is that I can't believe the 1950s are History (with a capital H). When I was a kid, we dressed up for 50s day or for Halloween to make fun of our parents. To make fun of me, my kids are going to have to dress like Depeche Mode or Madonna or the like. The second thing, most relevant to the following review, is that Penny From Heaven is a story that really sneaks up on you. It starts out quietly and then, wow...hang on for the ride!

Eleven-year-old Penny's summer begins as most summers have before. She lives at home with her mother and grandparents. The house is quiet, mom works long hours as a secretary, and Penny's grandparents are slightly eccentric. Me-me (Grandma) is kind, but a horrible cook who favors wholesome "American" food like meatloaf and liver. Pop-pop (Grandpa) is given to inappropriate comments and overestimating his plumbing abilities.

Fortunately, Penny has her deceased father's siblings, cousins, mothers, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles to spoil her, feed her, and employ her in the family store. They're a large, Italian-American family with lots of love, food, kids and quarrels. But the Faluccis have something in common with Penny's other family--they won't tell her the secret about her father's death. Everyone--from her mom's family to her father's--gives Penny a vague answer: Penny's father died in a hospital.

Penny spends her summer hanging out, playing baseball, and delivering groceries with her cousin and best friend, Frankie, a twelve-year-old boy on the verge of real trouble with the law. She's having a good time until something dramatic happens. Her mother begins dating. And not just anybody...She begins dating Mr. Mulligan, the milkman.

All these threads come together in a dramatic conclusion that had me reading over the chaos of three boys stomping and screaming through the house (average age: 6). Penny From Heaven is one of those stories that will stay with me a long time. Highly recommended for children ages 8-14.