A small-town story with big heart

Fiction debut for local writer

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When the world gets bleak, readers always turn to their favorite stories to bring them comfort. “My Year With The Italian Girl,” a new novel by Sayville resident Linda Leuzzi, is sure to become a comfort read for many.

“Girl” is Leuzzi’s fictional debut, as she has eight non-fiction books published. She was previously an editor for the Long Island Advance and is a weekly contributing writer. Her novel takes place in Bellport in 1985 and follows three main characters: Vivian, Francesca and Keisha. Vivian is the editor of The Bellport Evening Star and hosts Francesca, a teenage exchange student from Catania, for a year. While at school, Francesca befriends Keisha, a Black student at the local high school, and the two team up to compete in the upcoming step competition.

Leuzzi, who herself has hosted multiple international exchange students, said that her mentorship of a Rotary exchange student from Catania, Sicily, helped inspire her story. A few years later, Leuzzi wrote a story on a step program at Bellport High School with Black and white teens. After that, Leuzzi said the story really got off the ground.

Keisha and her family, especially her Aunt Lea, a Broadway dancer, were inspired by several successful Black women Leuzzi has interviewed over the years, including fashion designer Tracy Reese, Dance Theater of Harlem costume designer Zelda Wynn, founder and creator of Sylvia’s Restaurant Sylvia Woods, actress Charlayne Woodard, and CBS wardrobe head Andrea Ross. Leuzzi also noted that a classmate of hers from Jamaica High School, Tonda, was a big inspiration for Keisha’s character.

A shorter version of the story was serialized weekly in the Long Island Advance in the 2000s. Leuzzi put the story aside until her retirement as editor of the Advance, in 2016.

A large plot point in the book is Vivian working on an environmental story. The fictionalized Wiley Estate is threatened to be taken over by a developer, and Vivian makes it her mission to get the story. Leuzzi said that that aspect of the book was inspired by one of her heroines, Hathaway Scully of the Scully Estate, in Islip, and the work she did touring people around her estate and taking in injured and sick wildlife.

Making Vivian an editor was fun for Leuzzi, who was able to imbed some stories from her time as a reporter and an editor. She wanted people to see the work that goes into journalism and the industry. Vivian’s love interest is her new neighbor, Ian, from England, who she surprisingly has a lot in common with, if she would only open her heart up.

Leuzzi calls her novel “a love letter to Bellport, if nothing else.”

“This book is uplifting and if it can inspire other people, it’s good,” Leuzzi said.

So curl up with a cup of tea and enjoy a small-town story with a big heart.

“My Year With The Italian Girl” was published by Solstice Publishing and can be purchased on Amazon for $15.95. 

Click this link to purchase.

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