From Publishers Weekly
Leone draws on her heritage in her uneven debut, a flawed novel about a dysfunctional Lebanese Christian immigrant family living in 1950s Washington, D.C. The daughter of a meek father and tyrannical mother, Irene Awtooah is gifted with a magnificent voice, but singing is forbidden in her joyless home. When Irene is 14, two neighborhood women—non-Lebanese "outsiders"—hear Irene singing and offer her free music lessons, but Mama, who married at 13 and had her first child at 14, sabotages Irene's lessons and crushes her spirit, sending the girl into a downward spiral. Though the story is Irene's, it's narrated by Irene's sister, Lottie, who remains needlessly opaque throughout. Also, Mama's viciousness is never made believable. Readers may be seduced by the Mideast immigrant angle, but the story and storytelling are disappointing. (Mar.)
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Oh, how sweet a mother's love, until it becomes too suffocating. Set in Washington, D.C., in the 1950s, Leone's debut novel tells a painful saga of a Lebanese immigrant family stuck between cultures. Irene, a sweet, obedient girl and the youngest in a large family, suffers a dangerous bout of influenza at age three. After nursing her back to health, her mother becomes fiercely protective, and Irene grows up under her watchful eye, never allowed to have friends or play outside the home. But with high school comes a modicum of freedom, and Irene slowly starts to come into her own, encouraged by two kindly neighbors who notice her unusual talent for singing. Mama, ever suspicious of American ways, tries desperately to prevent this blossoming, and her stifling love forces Irene down a tragic path. Lottie, Irene's older sister, is the wise narrator of this story as she tries, years later, to figure out what went wrong. Fans of Arab-American literature will especially love the details that flavor Leone's touching novel. Emily CookCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved