Julia Parlatone doesn't have much to remember her Italian mother by. A grapevine that Sarina planted still flourishes in the backyard of Julia's childhood home in Astoria, Queens. And there's a song, "Stella Mia," she recalls her mother singing - my star, my star, you are the most beautiful star - until the day she left three-year-old Julia behind and returned to Italy for good.
Now a happily married school teacher, Julia tries not to dwell on a past she can't change or on a mother who chose to leave. But in an old trunk in the family basement, she discovers items that belonged to her mother - a songbook, Tarot cards, a Sicilian folk costume - and a diary. Sarina writes unflinchingly of her harsh childhood and of a first, passionate love affair; of blissful months spent living in the stunning coastal resort town of Taormina and the unspoiled Aeolian Islands north of Sicily as well as the reasons she came to New York. By the diary's end, Julia knows she must track down her mother in Italy and piece together the rest of the complex, bittersweet truth - a journey that, for better or worse, will change her own life forever.