Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Stella Mia

Title:  Stella Mia
Author:  Rosanna Chiofalo
Publication Information:  Kensington Publishing. 2015. 354 pages.
ISBN:  0758275056 / 978-0758275059

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My earliest childhood memory is of a song."

Favorite Quote:  "I sometimes feel that you cannot let go of your past and just focus on us and the blessings you now have in your life."

Julia's mother abandoned her at age three. She has grown up with a loving father and aunt. She is now an adult with a loving husband. Still, she thinks of the mother she never knew. Doing research for a school project, she finds things that belonged to her mother - a Sicilian costume, a deck of tarot cards, and her mother's diary - things her father has never told her about.

The diary tells the heartbreaking story of Sarina - the abuse, the sacrifices, the betrayals, and the love. The story leads Sarina from Sicily to the beautiful Aeolian Islands to Astoria, New York, and all the way back again. The diary sets Julia on a quest to find her mother and to find out why? Why did Sarina abandon Julia? Why did she never come back? Why did Julia's father never tell her more about Sarina? Why?

One central theme of this book is the far reaching effect of child abuse. Growing up in an abusive home forever alters Sarina to the point that she abandons her own child. Julia grows up with the knowledge that her mother abandoned her, but she also grows up in a home filled with love. She has many unanswered questions about her mother and her abandonment, but she also is able to live with love and trust in her life. Both women have been damaged by the actions of family members, but they end with very different outlooks.

The other central theme of this book is the relationship between mothers and daughters. Sarina and her mother and, of course, Sarina and Julia. It is about the unbreakable bonds and the love even when actions do not demonstrate that love. Sarina's mother loves her child but is unable to protect her from abuse. Sarina loves Julia, but she abandons her.

Sarina's story is a heartbreaking one. The constant and severe abuse are devastating. However, it is difficult to completely sympathize with her since the book starts with the fact that she abandons her own child. Her sadness and fears forever alters her daughter's life. Julia, though surrounded by love, believes that Sarina left because she did not want Julia. This heartache has always been a hole in Julia's life.

It is also difficult to sympathize with Sarina's treatment of Paul, Julia's father. Sarina marries Paul, not out of love, but out of a need for his love and protection. Even though Paul knows that Sarina does not love him, he hopes that with time, that love will come. Given her tragic background, Sarina is unable to give herself over to love and to be happy. Instead, her unhappiness reaches out and encompasses the whole family. Her abandonment deepens that sorrow, and the fact that she never returns still lingers all these years later. In seeking protection and escape, she jeopardizes Paul's life and happiness.

Where and how Julia finds Sarina makes it even more difficult to understand why Sarina never returns. She could have reached out to Julia, but she did not. As a parent, that is difficult to understand.

What does get lost a bit in the story is the fact that Sarina is only eighteen when Julia is born. Sarina is barely more than a child herself when she is thrust into an adult world. That perhaps is the saddest aspect of the book and makes Sarina a more sympathetic character. However, the characterization reads as if Sarina is significantly older and the fact of her youth gets submerged by the rest of the story.

What also gets lost is the fact that Sarina finds herself in a new country with nothing and no one familiar. That is overwhelming in the best of circumstances and much more so after what Sarina goes through. That makes Sarina a more sympathetic character; unfortunately, the book spends no time on that part of the story. The reader does not see the struggles of that aspect of Sarina's life.

From the present, the book travels through Sarina's past back to the present again. The ending of the book comes together in a neat little package with no loose ends. It is a little too tidy for the heartbreak described throughout the book, making it seem unrealistic. Life is not that neat, as Sarina's past and Julia's life clearly demonstrate.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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