Penny from Heaven is the story of 12-year-old Penny Falucci, an Italian-American girl growing up in the 1950s. Her father died under mysterious circumstances when Penny was very little. She and her mother live with her slightly eccentric maternal grandparents. The grandmother, Me-Me, is a horrible cook, and Pop-Pop, the grandfather, is constantly working on the plumbing and causing leaks. Penny’s mother works very hard and is struggling to make a life for herself.
Penny also has a huge, extended Italian family with one favorite cousin, a gaggle of aunts and uncles who are devoted to her, as well as her Italian grandparents that adore her. For some reason, the two families do not get along.
Penny’s not lacking in love. What she is lacking in is knowledge of her father. Nobody speaks of him; no one will tell her how he died.
This summer begins like any other with Penny and her favorite cousin Frankie playing baseball, delivering meat from their uncle’s butcher shop and hanging out. For her birthday her Uncle Dominic has bought her Dodgers (Dem Bums!) tickets for her birthday. It’s her very first game, so she’s understandably excited and wiggles out of her mother’s birthday celebration for her. It conveys both Penny’s excitement and her mother’s quiet resignation and hurt.
Penny’s mother starts dating the milkman, Mr. Mulligan, and Penny goes nuts. She’s hurt, she’s jealous, she doesn’t give Mr. Mulligan or her mother a chance. Things start to escalate and then something happens to Penny that turns both families upside down and bring them closer. Old secrets are disclosed and a shameful history of the country is exposed.
The cast of characters is very detailed, well-defined, and multi-layered. The former dancer Aunt Gina and her battles with Nonny, the Italian grandmother, were very realistic. It sounded just like my grandmother Ruth and her disapproval of one of my aunts.
The post-war 1950s are portrayed so vividly that you feel you’re in that time period. Everything is so real. There’s a lot of history woven into this book and I think boys will like it just as much as girls. The real fans however are going to be adults who remember that era fondly.
Penny from Heaven, recommended for grades 5 to 7, is a completely remarkable book and it has something for everyone. Highly recommended!