Catarina Pensebene grew up in Italy's farming country. Her life was filled with olive groves, hard work, good food and a large, loving family. When Catarina is put to work as a maid for another family, she attracts the attention of the husband and is almost raped. Salvation comes in the form of a letter from the United States. A family friend is asking for Catarina's hand in marriage for their son, Franco. Catarina gains the courage to leave her home and her family in order to travel to America and marry a man she only knew in her youth. Making the best of the life she now leads, Catarina finds love with Franco and his family, she dutifully passes on her life lessons along with the ring Franco made for her to her daughter and granddaughter. Years later, Catarina's granddaughter, Juliette decides to escape to Italy after a tragedy. Juliette calls upon the strength of her grandmother to get through heartbreak and find the courage to follow her dream and open her own Italian restaurant.
Beautiful scenery and intriguing plot immersed me into both Catarina and Juliette's stories. I am a sucker for dual time stories and I loved that I knew the connection between Juliette and Catarina from the beginning, but not the full importance of the ring. I felt a strong connection to each character; I experienced the struggle of Catarina's decision as she weighed leaving her home for a new land and fiance, as well as her resolve in being happy and making love grow. Juliette's experience began in tragedy, however Italy was a wonderful place to recuperate. I was brought into the sights, smells and food as Juliette cooked her way to recovery. I enjoyed that Juliette also found solace in her Grandmother's letters, the shared experiences through time and the bond of the ring deepened their links. Overall, an emotional and enchanting story of love, lessons, loss and family.
This book was received in exchange for an honest review.
In the end it was the combination of the two, the end of my little war against Jamie, and the start of the big war, Hitler's war, that set me free.
- Chapter 1
She was not a nice person, but she cleaned up the floor. She was not a nice person, but she bandaged my foot in a white piece of cloth, and gave us two of her own shirts to wear. Miss Smith was not a nice person, but the bed she put us in was soft and clean, with smooth thin blankets and warm thicker ones.
- Chapter 7
Huh, I thought. Imagine dressing up tables. Imagine wasting cloth to dress up tables.
- Chapeter 18
I wanted Mam to be like Susan. I didn't really trust Susan not to be like Mam.
- Chapter 26
Ada was born with a club foot, and because of this, her mom doesn't let her leave the house. But that isn't the worst of it. Ada's mom (Mam) punishes her by putting her in a kitchen cabinet -- sometimes overnight. Mam calls Ada rubbish and tells her no one wants her with her ugly foot. Ada "escapes" this abuse by going somewhere else in her head.
When Ada finds out her younger brother Jamie is to be evacuated with the other kids from his school, she is determined to go with them. The journey takes them to a small village where families have agreed to take in the evacuated children. Ada and Jamie end up living with Susan Smith, an old, grumpy spinster who doesn't really want them.
Ada is a heart-wrenching character. She has been taking care of her brother all his life, but no one takes care of her. She has suffered unimaginable abuse from the woman who should love her the most. She doesn't know how to accept love and kindness, and she doesn't even think she deserves it. Her mother has told her that her foot is messed up because Ada did something wrong.
Susan has her own issues. She recently lost her best friend and suffers from severe depression. Having Ada and Jamie around gives her something else to think about and an important responsibility - a reason to get up every day and engage with others.
Wow. This book is powerful. It is set in England during World War II. I loved watching Ada's development and bonding with Susan and others in the village. Despite everything Ada has been through (or maybe because of it), she is stubborn and courageous. She is also slow to trust and filled with self-doubt. The last chapter had me in tears.
I recommend this book to kids in grades 4-8 and their adults. I think it will touch their hearts in a major way.