I love Jenni Holm -- have met her a couple times, enjoy all of her books, love the new Babymouse series. And though I admit to a certain trepidation about this new one (mostly because it's gotten so many accolades, and see where that's gotten me in the past), it didn't disappoint.
Eleven-year-old Penny hardly remembers her father, who died when she was a baby under circumstances never quite explained to her. Her mother doesn't associate with her father's giant, loud, wonderful Italian American family anymore, but she lets Penny keep in touch, and it's here -- among her numerous uncles, her terrifying Nonna, and her bad-seed cousin Frankie -- that Penny learns what it means to be brave and to be loved.
Holm wrote the book to call attention to a shameful part of American history, namely the interrogation and, at times, imprisonment of Italian Americans, German Americans, and other "enemies" of the state during World War II. There are loads of books now about the Japanese American experience in WWII, but precious little about these other victims of patriotism run amuck. It's a careful story, set in 1953, with little politicism, surprisingly; affecting and touching, it's got Award Contender scrawled all over it.
Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm. Random House, 2006, 200-something pages.