FIFTEEN by Carolyn Doyle


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In this novel of a New York City Italian-American family in the 1960s, a mother and daughter both long for love but end up with drama.

Thirty-four-year-old Maria Campisi is an unhappy wife and mother. Her large family gathers every Sunday night for dinner, and during this weekly ritual, her husband, Luigi, berates her, her sister-in-law looks down on her, and her mother-in-law, Nonna, belittles her. However, she takes some solace in the fact that people often mistake her to be her daughter’s sister. Meanwhile, her daughter, 15-year-old Angelina, dresses like a greaser and goes to bra-burning protests with her friends. Their lives both change when Luigi hires contractors to work on their house—among them the handsome Pasquale. Maria feels an immediate attraction to him, basking in the glow of his attention and compliments. But Angelina also swoons over Pasquale, especially after her own boyfriend, Ford, pressures her into sex she doesn’t want to have. Family tensions at home make matters worse, as Nonna keeps disappearing for hours at a time and acting mysterious. Maria gets in too deep with Pasquale, and as she backpedals, Angelina tries to use him as a pawn in a plan of her own. But when Luigi catches Pasquale in his teenage daughter’s bed, Pasquale is arrested, Maria is beside herself; meanwhile, Angelina and Nonna still both have secrets. The women of the family will have to come together for the Campisis to have a happy ending. The story unfolds amidst the volatile events of the ’60s, including the Vietnam War, “free love” and women’s liberation. These cultural markers are sometimes heavy-handed, but they’re tempered slightly by the effectively used signposts of an urban Italian-American family: cannoli, marinara sauce, stickball and more. With two first-person narrators telling the story—mother and daughter in alternating chapters—the novel sometimes reads like a diary, as they both reveal their feelings and grievances. Overall, however, the characters are compelling and well-drawn, and the story moves at a quick clip. Some readers may wish for a different, more independent ending for the heroines, but they’ll at least get the satisfaction of watching mother and daughter come together.

An entertaining novel that paints a fine portrait of 1960s New York, even if it does sometimes plow familiar dramatic territory. 

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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