A Portrait of Piaby 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 Cityand even makes her way to Italy to meet her mysterious papàher world starts to/i>
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 Cityand even makes her way to Italy to meet her mysterious papàher 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.
Read an Excerpt
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
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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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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!