Lucia D'Angelo is a mere fourteen years old when her mother, Teresa, a radiant and mentally unstable young woman with the voice of an angel, attacks a violent psychotherapist to rescue Lucia from being tortured. As a result, mother and daughter are forced to flee their beloved Naples when their count, and lifelong employer, proclaims a punishment of death. With assistance from their submissive, abused countess and Paolo, the countess's confidante, the two flee to a boardinghouse for immigrants in 1900's Cleveland.
Once acclimated, Lucia enrolls in school and expresses her deepest desire - to finish high school and join the ranks of the mere 8% of immigrant children to complete her education. Teresa quickly finds work thanks to Paolo's cousin Roseanne, who is also the owner of the boardinghouse, and with help from Lucia's diligent and varied after-school jobs, the women are able to keep their heads above water. Unfortunately, largely in part to Teresa's mental illness and past sexual abuse, she soon finds herself blacklisted in Cleveland and unable to work due to her frequent rages and bursts of temper.
As the story progresses, the reader learns of the horrible working conditions for female factory workers during the turn of the century and the desperate emotional and physical toll it took on their families. While Teresa's mental health continues to deteriorate, Lucia pushes forward toward her goal of graduating and making enough money for the two to survive. Thankfully Lucia has the wherewithal and intelligence to work meaningful, less physical jobs than her peers and is saved from the horrific, sometimes fatal, conditions of factory life.
Once Teresa is fired from her position as the Naples Nightingale in a touring vaudeville act, Lucia is forced to reassess her path in life. Teresa officially withdraws from society and Lucia must leave college to take on another job and also care for her ailing mother.
What happens next proves to our young heroine that sometimes a shattered dream is a small price to pay to discover the ability to thrive on one's own determination. Lucia grows tremendously, accomplishing things she never thought possible when she joins the Cleveland Garment Workers' Strike of 1911. Readers will cheer as Lucia realizes the power of lasting friendships, hard work and dedication to one's own desires. And despite her mother's declining mental state, we watch Teresa show glimpses of a fiercely devoted woman who loves her daughter and would do anything to protect her.
A testament to the love and enduring bond between mothers and daughters, childhood friendships and adopted family, Swimming in the Moon is a must read for anyone who enjoys beautiful, richly drawn characters and a historical setting so realistic one would believe they had been transported into another time. A glorious, unforgettable novel. A+