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Shelf Awareness for Readers

Author: Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Newspaper: Shelf Awareness
Date: Jul 15 2019

The unnamed narrator is 13, raised by two affectionate parents in a comfortable city home where she has her own room. School, swim and dance lessons, a nearby best friend, the sea a short walk away are the life she's known. And then, one August afternoon in 1975, she's driven to an apartment in a small village with all her possessions, where she's "greeted by the smell of recent frying and a wait." When the door finally opens, she finds a sister she's never met before. Once she passes through, she becomes the "arminuta, the one who was returned."

The mother she's always known is sick, perhaps dying. Her father won't raise her alone. She's told she's grown up "and my real parents wanted me back." She's now one of five children in a family that has no room for her, reduced to neglect, hunger, occasional abuse. Bewilderment and misery define the year she spends with her birth family, mitigated only by the growing bonds with her younger sister Adriana (with whom she shares a urine-soaked bed) and older, often missing, brother Vicenzo. As she navigates her new life, she will need to learn acceptance and practice rejection in order to survive.

Italian author Donatella Di Pietrantonio (who is also a pediatric dentist) makes her English-language debut, thanks to Elena Ferrante translator Ann Goldstein. With unflinching perception, in A Girl Returned Di Pietrantonio presents a heartrending tale of a child discarded, never quite reclaimed. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon