The astute observations of a little girl from a big Catholic family living in Pasadena in 1963.
A middle child in a family of 13 kids, 12-year-old Annie is often a substitute parent for her younger siblings. When her father sends her older sister Clara to a shelter for unwed mothers to give birth in secret, Annie advocates for the unborn baby against her parents’ wishes and against the dogma of the Catholic Church. Annie questions her religion in her diary as she decides for herself the difference between right and wrong, and her prose distills the sweetness of childhood. The titular Theory of Expanded Love is her way of coping with having so many siblings: “You kind of love them in the background to everything,” she says, but the background noise of a family that size is deafening. Annie rushes to change her little brother’s diaper when her parents leave him alone to cry it out, but no one comes to Annie’s aid when an unseen pair of hands fondles her under the covers in her bedroom at night. If Annie can’t have a direct line to her parents, she hopes to at least have a direct line to God through her family’s friend Cardinal Stefanucci, who is in line to become the next pope. But is God really listening? In a conservative community where prayers go unanswered, sins go unpunished, and secrets never leave the confessional booth, God seems to help those who help themselves.
Annie’s disarming voice evokes nostalgia for a bygone era and hope for humanity in a weary, modern world.