The deep bond and loving support between family members, as well as the inevitable rifts, disagreements and imperfections in any family, are a central focus throughout Penny From Heaven.Penny is drawn to her large, boisterous Italian-American family, the Faluccis, and she describes their gatherings and traditions with loving detail. Sharing Sunday dinner—an elaborate, all-day affair—with her Italian relatives is one of the highlights of Penny’s week. In addition, Penny enjoys the smaller traditions she shares with individual family members, such as listening to Dodgers games on the radio with her uncle Dominic. Penny also appreciates the way the Faluccis share stories of her deceased father and keep his memory alive; the family provides Penny with a connection to the father she never knew.

However, the author does not sugarcoat her portrayal of the Faluccis, and as in every family, there are conflicts. Grandmother Falucci and her daughter-in-law, Gina, are so prone to disagreements that they use separate kitchens in the same house. Uncle Dominic, torn up with guilt over his role in Penny’s father’s death, no longer takes meals with the family or makes much effort to interact with them. And Uncle Angelo, who has married into the Faluccis, has a criminal background and may be leading his son in the same direction.

On the surface, Penny’s mother’s family seems to have even more problems than the Faluccis. Penny’s mother, who has never really recovered from her husband’s death, is sad, serious and worried all the time. Penny’s grandparents, Me-me and Pop-pop, are always squabbling with each other. In addition, while Nonny Falucci is a wonderful cook, Me-me’s food is barely edible—symbolically, Me-me fails to nourish her family the way Nonny does. However, things begin to change when Penny’s mother finds love with the milkman, Mr. Mulligan. Penny notes her mother’s happy laughter and the bright, fancy clothes she wears to dates—her mother is beginning to emerge from her long-lasting grief. At first, Penny is very suspicious of Mr. Mulligan, as she feels he is an inadequate replacement for her father. However, Mr. Mulligan later endears himself to Penny by bringing her ice cream in the hospital and reading her coverage of the Dodgers. By the time Mr. Mulligan and her mother marry, Penny is ready to accept Mr. Mulligan, not as a replacement for her father, but as a valuable new member of her family. With this plot element, the author deepens her definition of family, showing that a family can overcome hardship, adapt and envelop new members in order to become even stronger.

Overall, despite the problems that exist in both sides of Penny’s...

(The entire section is 1115 words.)