Congratulations to co-authors, Angela (left) and Julie (right) Scipioni, for painstakingly creating this three-part, 1,385 paged, novel over four years and 10,000 miles. (Angela in Liguria, Italy, and Julie in upstate New York)
Book One introduces the reader to Iris and Lily, the youngest girls in the large Catholic,
Italian-American family of fourteen. Sandwiched between the seven older children (2 boys, 3 girls, 2 boys) and three younger brothers, the sisters turn to each other for understanding and affection in the loud, rambunctious, often abusive household, outside Rochester, New York.
At first, the rundown, 100-year-old farmhouse, 10 miles from beloved Auntie Rosa and Uncle Alfred, offered the freedom to get lost in their own backyard or imagination, but couldn’t combat the shame of hand-me-down clothes, big brother’s tortures or the embarrassment of the school’s free-lunch program.
Lacking encouragement and appreciation, younger sister, Lily, frequently used a stomach ache to escape uncomfortable situations and draw attention to herself. Auntie Rosa’s obvious partiality to Iris further intensified Lily’s victim hood. After Lily’s repeated molestation in the chicken house, provisions were quickly made for her to attend the Limelight Dance Boutique along with Iris. For the weekend trip to Auntie Rosa’s apartment, Iris packed her little blue valise while Lily had to be content with a paper bag for her belongings.
‘A Rare, Modern-Day Classic!’
After hot-headed patriarch Carlo Capotosti, begrudgingly allowed his long-suffering wife to work outside the home, Lily and Iris balanced additional chores with homework and part-time jobs. But when wife, Betty, decided to leave permanently, the girls instantly became the women of the house: planning meals, buying groceries, mopping floors and scrubbing toilets.
It’s no wonder Iris graduated early, escaped to the University of Buffalo and engineered a trip to Italy for herself and Auntie Rosa while Lily, 17, moved in with her mother and married shortly thereafter. Can you blame them?
I have to agree with the following reader’s comment, “This story, in three volumes, is quite long and might not suffer from being cut down”. Book one, weighing in at 577 pages, presented the biggest challenge. But once the reader identifies with the two main characters, the urge to follow their lives becomes an obsession; one reviewer, ” liked the relationship between the two sisters, and wanted to see them get out of the god-awful situation “.
‘Should Be a Mini-Series!’
‘An Intense, Honest, Insightful Story!’
A third reviewer found the format to be “incredibly unusual”. Comprised of two levels, the narrative’s first level consists of memories about growing up, shared in alternating chapters, composed by the two sisters. The second level, made up of the e-mails exchanged intermittently between Iris and Lily as adult women, allows each sister to voice her reaction to what the other has written and which follows its story line.
The revelations that emerge through the second level might be summed up in Lily’s e-mail regarding who’s telling the real story while tying the past with the present and defining the sister’s opposing viewpoints of their shared childhood. . . “All I can tell you is that my stories feel like memories, but when I read yours – I don’t know – it’s almost like reading a novel or something.”
‘A Wonderful Series!’
Still another reviewer questioned how much of this proclaimed work of fiction was autobiographical since the Sciopini sisters also hailed from a large, Catholic, Italian-American family just like their counterparts Iris and Lily.
Lastly, a book club member reported that her group will be spending the summer months reading all three novels and discussing the women’s issues found within their pages.
Iris and Lily Book Club Questions for Book 1
- How does the author’s use of Iris and Lily as narrators limit the scope of the novel? What additional information would have helped the reader better understand the dynamics of the dysfunctional Capotosti family?
- Discuss the neighborhood’s reaction to the presence of the large Italian-American Capotosti family living in their midst. How do the parishioners at St. Augustine’s church and later Sacred Family respond? Take into account, Father Delaney’s comment, “You Capotostis are all the same.”
- How did the trials and tribulations of growing up in a large, unruly family shape the two sisters? In later years, how did each compensate for their chaotic, often cruel childhood?
- Why did Aunt Rosa retell the tragic story of her sister drowning in the canal so many times? Did Rosa blame herself for Teresa’s death? If so, how did she atone for her negligence?
- Point out the similarities and differences in the two main characters. Looking back at their childhood, from a distance of 40 years, which memories coincide? Which conflict?
- How did Iris benefit from Auntie Rosa’s favoritism? Suggest reasons why Iris reaped the benefit of her aunt’s affection. How did her esteemed status drive a wedge between Iris and her younger sister?
- Lily strongly identified with Cinderella. How did her life parallel that of Disney’s fairy tale princess? If Dolores had lived, how would Lily’s future have been changed? Discuss the importance of fairy tales in the lives of both girls.
- Voice your impressions of Grandma Whitacre and her counterpart, Grandma Capotosti. Could the marriage uniting Carlo and Betty have had any real chance at success given the disparity in their family’s backgrounds?
- In your opinion, was Betty Whitacre Capotosti a good mother? Was tempermental Carlo a good father? Suggest reasons for Betty’s decision to get a job and eventually leave her husband and the younger children behind? Would you have taken the same actions?
- Is it true that women tend to marry men like their fathers? How does Joe Diotallevi resemble Lily’s father, Carlo? How do they differ?
- How did you react to the alternating-chapter method of story telling used by the Scipioni sisters? Did you prefer one of the two characters over the other? Sympathize with one more than the other? Why?
- Eighty four percent of Amazon.com reviewers rated Iris & Lily, the complete series, at four stars or higher. How would you rate Book 1 on a scale of 1-5? Will you read Books 2 and 3? Why or why not?
Books two and three move at a faster pace leaving the reader hungry to hear more about the Capotosti sisters at the end of Book 3. I will be happy to furnish discussion questions for Iris & Lily, books 2 & 3! Please contact me at least a week ahead of your meeting.