This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thank you to The Borough Press and Random Things Tours for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo grow up next door to each other in 1920s Brooklyn. They are connected by being from Family families, a fact that separates them from their peers. Sofia is fierce and impulsive, Antonia more thoughtful and unassuming, yet both rely on the other for a sense of themselves, to remind each other they exist. When tragedy strikes and the Family is to blame it threatens the very fabric of their existence. Antonia’s mother Lina retreats into herself and Antonia becomes more reliant on the Colicchios for a sense of family, although she hates the Family and everything it has done to her. Over the course of the book we see how inextricably linked their lives are and how hard it is to heed the warnings of the past.
The Family is central to the tale yet the violence and crimes it perpetrates are at a remove. Here, the focus is the women, and the toll Family life takes on them. Lina warns Antonia never to marry a Family man, yet she finds herself falling for Paolo and pushing aside her concerns. Despite the early rush of love and security he seems to provide, she soon notices signs of her old troubles seeping in. When things come to a head it seems history might be about the repeat itself and we realise just how impenetrable a web the Family weaves around itself. Sofia falls for one of her father’s employees, someone she doesn’t think would ever be seen as an acceptable husband and therefore safe to fall for as he'd never get the chance to limit her independence. Sofia herself becomes increasingly deeply involved in Family business and it soon becomes clear that the net is closing around them too.
Both Paolo and Saul dreamed of different lives for themselves, whether more ambitious or wholesome. Saul escaped Germany, fleeing to America for safety, but the horrors of the war and terror over what might have become of his mother haunt him. The Colicchios benefit greatly from the War and Saul becomes entangled in their world, convincing himself it’s just temporary, he’s helping refugees but once it’s all over he’ll do something else. As the War draws to a close it becomes apparent that the Family is not a temporary alliance and he is forced to make some hard decisions.
Joey, the head of the operation, can also find himself torn between his two lives - the family man and the Family. As time passes the pressure increases and he feels at a remove from his daughters. Sofia rebels as a teen and he is struck by the contrast between the fear he invokes in the men that owe him a debt and his powerlessness with this young woman. He wants to protect her from the grim reality of his life outside their family unit.
Against the background of violence abroad and much closer to home, we see Antonia and Sofia go through the familiar pains and joys of growing up, the impossible dreams and inevitable disappointments. Their transition to high school is their first experience of life away from people who know about the Family, their first chance to find out who they really are, and the first time they spend significant periods apart. It is a time of transformation, growth, and self discovery.
The searing, honest descriptions of their pregnancies and early motherhood can be difficult to read. There are doubts and fears abut whether they’ll be good mothers, if they want to be mothers at all. The dream of a happy home filled with children is contrasted with the shock of a traumatic birth and the sense of dissociation that it can bring. It is raw and challenging and so important to see these depictions. As ever, they rally around each other in their moments of need, providing the support and reassurance required to get through while hiding from their own insecurities.
This book is a beautiful examination of a friendship with its natural ebb and flow. There are moments of pure joy where their families overlap and merge and they seem to be one. Inevitably there are also times where they pull apart and struggle to connect with each other’s decisions, but always there is the certainty that when they are needed they will be there. This is a promising debut with believably drawn characters whose triumphs will bring a smile to your face and whose struggles will claw at your heart.