ChiChi Maggiordino will do anything to get God's attention. She will hold her breath, stand on tiptoe for an hour, walk a mile backward, climb all stairs on her knees... anything. When her grandmother teaches her how to use the Evil Eye, telling her it's how Jesus Christ made his miracles and how the Italians got rid of Mussolini, ChiChi realizes it's what her prayers have been missing. Now she can get started on the business of making her mother happier by helping her find love, and healing her brother's weak lungs.
But ChiChi's family lives in Minneapolis, and it's the 1950s. For an Italian immigrant family, sometimes it seems like nothing can make life easier. ChiChi's mother still pines for her husband, a long-dead American soldier; ChiChi's brother is disdainful of her sacrifices and penance-he doesn't understand what his older sister already knows, that sometimes God needs to be bribed.
When her grandmother passes away, ChiChi steps up her search for meaning and happiness, but it seems to be fruitless. And she struggles, the way so many women do, because her love for her family is suffocating, even while it fulfills her.
It's not until she meets two Italian dwarves, and they teach her of the ancient clown tradition, the commedia dell'arte, that she comes to understand that in order to make everyone else happy, she herself must be happy.
But first she must find her own way in the world... and learn to accept that not even the power of the Evil Eye can keep people from changing.