Review Detail

Kids Fiction 1317
Problems in Little Italy
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Nella and Angela are best friends who attend a Catholic school in a largely urban Italian neighborhood. They both have struggles with their families-- Nella has a passel of younger brothers, a harried mother, and a father who is a caretaker for the local cemetery and seems to have a secret sadness. Angela's father's problems are more apparent, as he was in the army and struggles with PSTD, which makes it hard to keep a job. Angela's mother leaves because of his tirades, and Angela depends on her older brother, Anthony, to help her out. Nella also has a friend who is a transplant to the neighborhood-- Clem, whose parents are professors at a nearby university. When their Catholic school closes down, the girls aren't sure where they will attend next year, and apply to a magnet school. Then a horrible thing occurs. Anthony, who has graduated and is working as a security guard, shoots a black man who was in a car accident and alarmed neighborhood people by knocking on their doors in the middle of the night. At the same time, Nella's great grandmother has a stroke, and everything falls apart for everyone. Tempers run high in the neighborhood, and both Nella and Angela's families struggle to keep things together.
Good Points
This was a brilliant depiction of a neighborhood and supportive neighbors, something that Springstubb does particularly well in What Happened on Fox Street, Moonpenny Island, and Cody and the Fountain of Happiness. The importance of the Catholic church and the school, the local businesses that attract tourists, and the neighbors who know generations' worth of secrets may not be something that all readers have experienced. There are very few books that have characters who are in Catholic schools, but there must be many readers who would appreciate reading about this.

Angela and Nella are great friends who really are as close as sisters. Their falling out is very realistic, as is Nella's attraction to the more worldly and uncomplicated Clem. When Angela needs her, however, Nella is quick to stay by her side, even if it means missing a once in a lifetime opportunity with Clem.

The topics of race relations and difficulties with the police is a timely one, and Springstubb manages to make both sides seem sympathetic, which is no easy task.

Readers who enjoy books with problematic parents and grandparents, such as The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, Silhouetted by the Blue, and Eleven and Holding will enjoy this beautifully descriptive and layered novel about family, loyalty, and secrets.
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