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A Portrait of Pia
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A Portrait of Pia

5.0 3
by Marisabina Russo

Thirteen-year-old Pia doesn't know her father, but she desperately wants to meet him. So she sends a letter to his home in far-off Italy. After she mails that one little letter, Pia's world turns upside down. But as she explores art, poetry, and New York City—and even makes her way to Italy to meet her mysterious papà—her world starts to


Thirteen-year-old Pia doesn't know her father, but she desperately wants to meet him. So she sends a letter to his home in far-off Italy. After she mails that one little letter, Pia's world turns upside down. But as she explores art, poetry, and New York City—and even makes her way to Italy to meet her mysterious papà—her world starts to right itself.

In this powerful and heartfelt story, Pia tries hard to forgive and love her imperfect family, and along the way she blossoms into a wise and worldly young woman.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Pia lives in New York City with her mother; she has never known her father. She and her mother are worried about Mario, Pia's older brother, who stopped going to Harvard. He has now been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is living on the edge. Pia isn't a very conscientious student, but she isn't even 13 years old yet, and she has a lot on her mind, with worry about Mario always haunting her. For one thing, she is drifting away from her best friend Anita. For another thing, she has written to her father in Italy and now has received a letter from him—he wants her and her mother to come to Florence during her spring break so they can be together. In this brief book, Pia creates a fine work of art (a self-portrait), she meets a new friend, she accepts her mother's nice boyfriend, and she does meet her father and discovers secrets about her family she never knew. It's a quiet story filled with believable characters and we have a lot of faith in Pia as she enters adolescence with her 13th birthday. A fine book for younger YAs, especially thoughtful, creative ones.
Kirkus Reviews
Russo pens a thoughtful story of a family's troubles and triumphs. While seventh-grader Pia's cliquish classmates and self-absorbed worries seem like genre cliches at first, they yield to real depth. Pia's older brother's mental illness caused him to drop out of Harvard. Although Mario shares an apartment, Pia's single mom is preoccupied with his care. Pia, "lonely in her own family," secretly contacts her father in Italy-whom she has never met-engendering a pivotal trip to Rome and Florence with her mother. Russo skillfully renders the artistic Pia's realizations: that her father, though entirely different from her naive expectations, might make a place for her in his life; that steady Greg, Mom's new boyfriend, seems ready to embrace their challenging family; and that Mario, who suffers another breakdown, has the continuing capacity for both love and healing. Other characters, such as the enigmatic teen Dahlia, populate a New York scene in which artists are respected community members. While missing a few dramatic opportunities by recounting action that's already occurred, this sensitively showcases the anguish of siblings of the mentally ill. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.78(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

It was dark in the movie theater. Pia reached over and took some popcorn out of the bucket on Brandon’s lap. She could hear him chewing. Then she felt his hand on her knee. His face was close to hers.

Ring ring ring.

“Sorry,” Brandon whispered. “It’s my cell phone.”

Ring ring ring.

Stupid cell phone, Pia thought.

Ring . . .

Pia looked around. No Brandon. No movie theater. She was alone in bed in her darkened room. There was one more ring of the telephone in the kitchen and then silence. The clock said 12:04 a.m.

Who would be calling at this hour? Pia was annoyed. She knew she’d never be able to reenter that Brandon dream, no matter how hard she tried.
Mom was talking to someone. Although Pia couldn’t make out the words she could hear the agitation in her mother’s voice. Pia closed her eyes and put a pillow over her head to block out the sound. Then suddenly, she remembered. Her father! It might be her father calling from Italy! Pia hurried down the hall to the kitchen, hoping her mother wouldn’t hang up before she got there.

As she pushed open the swinging door she heard Mom say, “No, Mario, I don’t want you to break your next appointment with Dr. Gallagher. It’s very important that you keep seeing him.”

Mario? Now Pia was even more annoyed. Why was he calling so late?

Mom’s forehead was crossed with worry lines and she was staring off into space. She didn’t seem to notice Pia opening the refrigerator to take out the carton of orange juice. Mom began walking back and forth with the phone cradled between her head and her shoulder. She kept murmuring, “Uh-huh, I know, I know,” as Mario talked nonstop. Finally, she managed to tell him he needed to get some sleep and she’d call him tomorrow morning.

After Mom hung up she got herself a glass and joined Pia at the kitchen table. Pia expected her mother to shoo her back to bed because it was a school night but instead they just sat there in silence.

Mom took a deep breath. “I have something important to tell you,” she said. Then she broke the big news: Dr. Gallagher had finally diagnosed Mario’s disease.

“It’s called schizophrenia and it’s a mental illness.” Mom’s voice was solemn.

Pia nodded as if she understood completely but then she started wondering if this meant the doctor thought her brother was crazy. Sure, Mario had been acting pretty weird since he dropped out of college, but crazy? Like one of those guys muttering to themselves on the subway? No way.

“Mario’s still in the early stages,” said Mom. “And Dr. Gallagher is an excellent doctor.”

Pia didn’t know what to say to her mother, who looked very pale and tired under the kitchen light.

“It’ll be okay,” Pia finally managed.

“I hope so,” said Mom. “Listen, I’d like you to keep this news to yourself, sweetie. Not a word to your friends or anyone else. Okay?”

Pia nodded but she wondered if Mom was ashamed of Mario’s illness. They sat there without speaking, Mom staring out the window, Pia braiding the fringe of the tablecloth. The refrigerator’s hum seemed louder than usual.

Finally Pia said, “Don’t worry,” and kissed Mom’s cheek. Then she headed back to bed.

The sheets were cold now. Pia shivered as she pulled up her blanket. She looked at the shadows on the ceiling, stripes made by the streetlight coming through the venetian blinds.

Was schizophrenia contagious?

Could you die from it?

Would the doctors and the medicines really help?

Pia rolled over onto her stomach.

Why couldn’t it have been her father calling instead of Mario?

She turned onto her side. Every few minutes she checked the clock. Sometime after 2:17 Pia finally fell asleep.

Copyright © 2007 by Marisabina Russo Stark

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

MARISABINA RUSSO has written and illustrated many picture books for children. A Portrait of Pia is her second novel for young readers. She lives in the Hudson Valley.

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A Portrait of Pia 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Pia Crossley is a pretty average seventh-grade girl. She lives with her mother and sometimes her older brother, Mario, in an apartment in a quiet neighborhood in Queens. Her life is fairly normal. Until she discovers a box of old papers in the basement, including one with her father's address on it.

Pia has never met her mysterious Italian father, and her mom doesn't talk much about him. However, she's gone almost thirteen years without knowing him, and she wants to know. So she writes him a letter, wishing on the odd elephant charm her brother gave her for him to write back. But what happens if he does?

That's not the only drama going on in Pia's life. Her best friend seems to have traded her in for the new girl. The boy she's got a crush on doesn't seem to notice her much. Her brother is sick. Her mom's got a new boyfriend. And her art teacher won't stop trying to convince her to submit something for the art show. What's a girl to do?

A PORTRAIT OF PIA is a fun, charming story about, most of all, what it's like to be thirteen. It's also about Pia's mysterious Italian father, but really it's about Pia's life, and how she's handling it all. It's a well-written novel, and Marisabina Russo has a gift for creating lifelike, interesting characters. This one is well worth reading!