Pennies for Joseph: A Novel
Donna C. Ebert
Pen-it Press (2008)
Reviewed by Danielle Feliciano for Reader Views (9/08)
“Pennies for Joseph” is the story of the Scarpiella family, narrated by the youngest daughter, Rosie. When the book opens, Rosie and her twin brother Joseph are both eight-years-old and living with their parents and older sister Teresa. Already living in poverty, the Scarpiella family suffers even more as a result of their father’s gambling addiction and penchant for drinking. He disappears for days at a time, becomes abusive and gambles away everything he can get his hands on. Their mother does not participate in the gambling, but permits it to continue as she takes her husband back time and time again.
Over the years, we see this family fracture more than once. The children are taken away by social services and for some unexplained reason, only Rosie is returned rather quickly. It was frustrating never to really know why Antoinette got one of her children back but had to work so hard for the others. Rosie was having trouble in foster care, but that reason alone would not have a child returned to quickly to a parent who has not improved the situation. Antoinette does make a solid attempt to repair her life and get her children back but is constantly impeded by her inability to get rid of her husband.
When the family goes to get Joseph from his foster family, they leave empty-handed, living with the belief that he will return to them soon. However, he quickly disappears with the foster family and Rosie begins a collection of “pennies for Joseph” to aid in her own search for him.
At this point, I began to dislike the parents more than I already did. No matter what, there is no excuse for them leaving Joseph with the foster family. I did not like that it took until nearly the end of the book to find out that Joseph was pretty much sold to the foster parents in order to pay off the father’s debts.
Overall, this book never really meshed with me. It was hard to place the timeframe, and even with the clues given based on the environment and behaviors in the book, I would have liked something more solid to give me a reference as to when the book was taking place. I found it hard to like or empathize with all of the characters at some point, and my dislike for the mother grew more and more as she kept up the cycle that was destroying her children. It covered an interesting subject, which is addictive gambling and its effects on a family, but I feel that “Pennies for Joseph” did not live up to what it tried to do.