To me, spirituality is less about Sunday mass than it is about love. It’s that simple. When you treat others with love, consistently and fully, you honor your god or goddess. Some of the holiest people I know have never stepped foot in a church.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman, tells the story of the second-born Fontana women, who have been cursed for generations to never find love or marriage. Emilia, a second-born sister, lives contentedly in a Brooklyn suburb surrounded by her large Italian family, working at her grandmother’s bakery, helping her older sister with her kids, and living in her small apartment. She chafes some at her Nonna’s restrictions for her life, and wishes her sister would include her in her book group rather than having her bake the dessert for it, but mostly she’s happy enough.
Then she gets a letter from her great-aunt Poppy—another second sister who was banished from the family many years ago for reasons Emilia doesn’t quite understand—requesting that she travel to Italy with her. Nonna forbids it but Emilia finally finds some courage to choose to do what she wants, and decides to go to Italy even though she doesn’t know Poppy very well. Her cousin Lucy (another second daughter) also goes along.
Most of the story unfolds in Italy. We get to watch Emilia and Lucy’s transformations as they process the world away from their family. And, in flashbacks, we learn Poppy’s story of what happened to her in the 1950s before she immigrated to the United States.
I loved being in Italy via this story. Some of the places Emilia sees—Venice and Florence—are places I got to visit, too, when I went to Italy. I loved seeing Emilia grow into herself and find a way to be who she is rather than who her family wanted her to be. Seeing her grow close to Poppy while immersed in Italy was lovely.
I really, really liked this book.
But to explain why I didn’t love love LOVE it, some back story. A few weeks ago I was at work and a patron asked me for a book recommendation in a way I hadn’t ever heard. She told me that she has tons of extra stress at work right now, and the COVID and the politics and the bad air are making her anxious. She said “I want to read something that is good and entertaining, something with an emotional depth, but nothing TOO deep and nothing too complicated or hard.” She thought for a second and said, “You know. Like a book you’d buy at Target.”
I was kind of amused by her idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I think that “fiction you buy at Target” is a great description. Good story, interesting characters and plot, something that pulls you in and keeps you reading. But not really “high literature” and nothing that rips your guts out of your tear ducts. The kinds of books that focus more on characters and the story than on the writing style. You know. A book you’d buy at Target.
Both types of books have value and goodness, but *for me* I need that little extra glitter that a more literary writing style can add.
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany is Target fiction. I enjoyed it and I think lots of other readers will love it. It just didn’t quite sparkle for me.
(This is book #8 of my Summer Reading Challenge.)