This is hands down my favorite children's book I've read in the past 7 or 8 months. I liked the narrator - Barbara Ann "Penny" Falucci - very much. This is just a very well-written, appealing family story. There is gentle humor, a time period (the summer of 1953) just close enough to seem modern but just far enough to be interesting, and an attractive cast of eccentric family members. The children in the book lead a realistic life (no family of 4 kids with no mom and a gently absent father running wild here) and cope with normal problems. If I had to relate it to popular culture, I'd say its feel is something like "Moonstruck" in book form for kids.
Basically this is the story of one summer and fall in Penny's life. Penny's Italian-American father died when she was just a tiny baby. At age 12, Penny lives with her non-Italian mother and grandparents in the same New Jersey town as her father's Italian family. Penny hangs with her cousin Frankie, schemes to get slightly crazy Uncle Dominick and her mother to fall in love even though Mom has started dating the dorky milkman, chafes against her mother's rules (no trips to the swimming pool - you'll get polio!), roots for the Dodgers, and is generally very much loved by her large family. I'm tempted to say not much happens in this book - but quite a bit does - Penny turns 12, she gets grounded for the summer, she discovers a big family secret, there is a terrible accident. The thing is, there's no "big game" or "huge crisis" to this book. That is the only thing that makes me wonder if kids will like it as well as many of the adults I know who've read the book. That said, I think this book would be very good for the girl reader who likes books about family, books about regular life tinged with realistic though not horrible drama - ultimately hopeful books. I'd say this would be a good book for the "Little House" or "Anne of Green Gables" reader. I truly think this book just might be one of those books these types of readers remember well into adulthood with fondness and happy feelings. For ages about 9-12.
Link to the Amazon reviews: http://www.amazon.com/Penny-Heaven-Newbery-Honor-Book/dp/037583687X