Based on true events, this is a story of love, family, hope, and survival set in post-World War II Italy about poor children from the south sent to live with families in the north to survive deprivation and the harsh winters.
Through a combination of a first-person voice and a balanced tone, the book paints an eminently believable and sympathetic picture that for American readers will serve the dual purpose of both literature and a mental vacation to the Neapolitan coast ... The voice is very moderate, and though the narration is not exactly how a child would talk, it provides just enough clues to indicate Amerigo’s youth without being distracting ... The author is wise to counterbalance the sad moments with moderate moments, avoiding the trap of romanticizing poverty. The readers are not led by the hand to pity the narrator, which removes the focus from the child’s sad predicament and instead focuses on the child’s self-agency and decision-making, providing readers a cause to feel invested in rather than a slog of sadness ... The narrator’s loneliest moments are relegated to key plot points and made more impactful when contrasted against the bright, lively descriptions of Italian food, festivals, and traditions. Readers will enjoy the scenes featuring traditional Neapolitan pizza, the pignatta, and the custom of a witch named Befana delivering candy to children on the Feast of the Epiphany ... a sympathetic, well-crafted novel filled with vacation-worthy sights and authentic experiences from an Italy that balances folk tradition with modernity. Readers will genuinely care about the children in this book and will feel deeply moved at the story’s resolution, when Amerigo must choose between his two families.
The novel jumps forward in time to Amerigo’s adulthood, which is when the novel shines. (Ardone writes adult Amerigo more convincingly than the 7-year-old boy) ... There are no easy answers and no heroes or villains. Ardone’s novel will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, but it stands on its own as a fictionalized account of an exceptional—and exceptionally complicated—social experiment.