Rosa, Sola, by Carmela Martino

In Rosa, Sola, Carmela Martino extended an invitation for her readers to meet Rosa Bernardi and share the hospitality of her Italian immigrant household. Martino spiced the text with Italian dialogue and painted her chapters in domestic minutiae that placed a fork in the reader’s right hand and a wine glass in the left. Martino squeezed the reader into the back seat for outings and the front row for celebrations. She portrayed the Bernardis as a warm and loving nuclear family. The one comfort missing in Rosa’s life was a little brother.

Nine-year-old Rosa revealed her deep loyalty as a Chicago Cubs fan and religious fervor as she prayed for a little brother. She blamed herself for her difficult birth and its effect on her mother’s health. Her mother explained that it was “destino,” destiny. “It was meant to be.” Rosa fought against the concept of destiny, believing, “Nothing is impossible for God.”

As her tenth birthday approached, Rosa’s life fell into shambles. Usually, a happy, pious, industrious and respectful child, she experienced losses beyond her imagination. In the absence of her parents, she came under the control of the heavily perfumed and air-kissing Aunt Ida, a woman who reminded Rosa of the character in The Wizard of Oz who confiscated Dorothy’s dog Toto. Fortunately for Rosa, another devout Cubs fan, Uncle Sal, laid down his copy of the Italian-language newspaper, Il Progresso, to share secrets. He gently coaches Rosa, despite her occasional outbursts and her anger at God, toward coping and healing her emotional wounds.

Carmela Martino skillfully developed her characters with love and understanding. She demonstrated the danger of stereotyping children, and that sometimes a child could be far more emotionally mature than the adults around her. With help from God and Uncle Sal, Rosa took her destiny into her own hands with enough grit to inspire both juvenile and adult readers.

The author provided a glossary facilitating her readers’ fluency in conversational Italian, although the context always translated the occasional digression from English.

When you’ve accepted Martino’s invitation to meet the Bernardi family, then Rosa won’t feel so alone.

Salute!

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