Penny from Heaven is a young adult novel that is set in New Jersey in the 1950s. New Jersey, at this time in American history, was a melting pot of diversity. Penny's own family is an Italian-American family. Penny's mother is a widow who has rejected her large family and does not speak to her in-laws after the death of her husband. Both the location of the setting and the time period highly affect several conflicts in the story.
First, this was a time in American history when many American's were starting to define exactly what being an American truly means. Immigrant children were raising children of their own, and moving away from the traditions of their native countries and setting new standards for themselves and the future of their families. Penny is this new generation.
This is also a dark time in America's history when many immigrants (Italians included) were not completely trusted by the American government. The truth about the death of Penny's father, who died in an internment camp upon suspect of being a spy or a communist, reveals the fear and difficulty that many American immigrants faced during this time.
A smaller plot detail affected highly by the setting is the fact that Penny's mother will not allow Penny to swim in public pools for fear of catching polio.
This book portrays an accurate picture of life in the 1950s for an Italian-American family, from the large family gatherings full of humor, love, and quirks, all the way to the distrust and fears that many had of their new country and government.