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Tempting Faith DiNapoli
by Lisa Gabriele
(Simon & Schuster, 2002)

When Nancy Franco finds herself pregnant at nineteen, she marries her Italian immigrant boyfriend, Joe (Giuseppe) DiNapoli, and plans to have four sons: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But the second child is a girl, so she revises the plan and decides on having a Faith, Hope and Charity. Until the fourth baby is a boy, leaving her with a Matthew, Faith, Hope and Charlie.

Faith DiNapoli longs for a "normal" family, but instead she has a trio of rowdy siblings in hand-me-downs; a feisty mother who drinks and smokes and is better at speaking her mind than at fitting in; and a distracted and heavily accented father who is covered in plaster from his construction work and often absent at extra shifts so he can "pooda food on da tabe."

As a young child, Faith is convinced that the church is her ticket to normalcy. She can imagine nothing more wonderful than a first communion dress and is certain she would like to marry Jesus. When Faith's mother decides she no longer wants anything to do with weekly mass (or the other way around), Faith worries that Mom is on her way to hell, and vows to pray double for her. But by the time she's reached high school, in the grand tradition of Catholic schoolgirls across North America, Faith has broken almost all ten commandments, and teeters somewhere between geek and slut.

At times the novel reads like "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," with it's bathroom jokes and frequent (sometimes hilarious) mention of boobs and maxi pads. Gabriele is adept at using a young person's slang and cutting humor, and at capturing the unfairness of the adult world from a kid's point of view. The novel's light, chatty voice makes it a breezy read and a good choice for poolside or bedtime. This is a debut that's smart but not overly clever, ironic or self-conscious -- a refreshing alternative to some of its loftier neighbors on the new fiction shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Christine Leahy

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