1. Story Statement – A young girl must save her family from ruin by uncovering the real reason her mother fled Italy.
2. The Antagonist – Jeanette Russo is the antagonist/antagonistic force, as well as the protagonist’s older sister. At the beginning of the novel, Jeanette and Maddy (the protagonist) are constantly fighting. Maddy wants to be included in Jeanette’s life, but Jeanette wants independence and space. After Jeanette’s eighteenth birthday, she starts playing piano every Saturday night at a local hotspot. Along with her new adult life comes a new adult love in the form of a married man, a secret she doesn’t want to share with her judgmental little sister who is resistant to change. Jeanette doesn’t speak up for herself, which is also a major issue for Maddy. Both Maddy and Jeanette grew up in a household where secrets were swept under the rug. But after Jeanette’s silence about her husband’s infidelity causes her death, it forces Maddy to find her voice and demand answers of her family in a way she never dared to before.
3. Breakout Titles
My Mother’s Daughter
The Family on Hudson Street
I’ll Be Seeing You
Learning How to Love in Italian
Madeline Russo Learns Italian
4. Comparable Titles – Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland – but the family is Italian ; In Five Years by Rebecca Serle – but with sisters instead of best friends
5. Core Wound and the Primary Conflict – A young woman, dying to understand her mother’s emotional distance, confronts her about the truth of her dark past.
6. Inner Conflict – The protagonist, Maddy Russo, is dying for love and acceptance from her mother; however, her mother has always been cold and distant. Whenever Maddy asks her mother questions about her past in Italy, she’s shut down quickly and made to feel bad for asking. Throughout her formative years, she was told that only bad girls ask questions because they didn’t know their place. So, she remained silent, which was hard for her since she is naturally inquisitive. She thinks that if she can just get her mother to share the story of her past, that this admission will bring the women closer together, and Maddy will finally get the love she’s been looking for her entire life.
Secondary Conflict – Maddy and her sister, Jeanette, fight the way only sisters can, with equal parts love and hate. But even though Maddy knows her sister loves her she is terrified of saying the wrong thing and losing Jeanette’s love. The fact that Jeanette picks a terrible man, Jack, to marry is a thread that runs the distance of the novel. At several points, Maddy catches Jack out with another woman and is forced to decide whether to say something about the infidelity to Jeanette or keep her mouth shut. Maddy knows her sister would be resistant to her poking her head where it doesn’t belong, but Maddy just wants to keep her sister safe.
7. Setting – The story revolves around the small town of Hackensack, NJ and starts on the day of Mussolini’s assassination. Hackensack at the end of World War II and the subsequent decade is filled with Italian immigrants and their first-generation offspring. The entire town is like one large family; everyone is in each other’s face and business.
· Maddy works at Robbie’s Music Store with her best friend, Frankie Ferrante who later becomes her love interest, teaching accordion lessons to the middle school kids. The eccentric owner, Robbie, is always cooking up ridiculous schemes to drum up business at Maddy’s expense.
· On Saturday nights, Jeanette plays piano at the local bar, Benny’s. Jeanette and Maddy’s father, Albert, used to bring the girls there on Saturday afternoons when they were little so he could play dominoes with his friends and give his wife, Maria, a break from the children. Maddy always thought of Benny’s as the place where union workers go after their shift. But when Maddy starts going to Benny’s with Jeanette, she sees a whole other world than the one in her memory.
· Saint Francis Catholic Church is the epicenter of the town, especially on Sunday mornings when everyone attends mass to pray and gossip. However, Maddy attends this church every morning before school because they hold mass in Italian at 6 am, and she wants to learn the language because she believes knowing it will bring her closer to her mother. They also host the town carnival every spring.
· As with all good Italian families, Sunday dinner is the major event of the week. All of Maddy’s relatives come over to her house. Aunt Susie, the eternally flashy Jersey girl with her bright red nails and thick Jersey accent, regales the women with juicy gossip while they make dinner. Maddy’s Nonna with her crooked fingers and hunched back yells at the women for trading other people’s secrets. In the dining room the men play cards and drink wine while accusing each other loudly of cheating.
Much of the novel takes place in the Russo home at 447 Hudson Street. It is the family hub. But the house at 447 Hudson and the town of Hackensack itself are these cozy enclaves that give the reader insight into Maddy, her fear of change, and her love of family, home, and routine.
Maddy Algonkian Writer Conference .docx