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A Girl Returned (Starred Review)

Newspaper: Kirkus Review
Date: May 12 2019

In this slim novel by award-winning Italian author Di Pietrantonio, her first translated into English, a 13-year-old girl raised by distant relatives as their own is sent abruptly back to her birth family with little explanation.The book opens with the unnamed narrator carrying a suitcase and a bag of shoes up the stairs to an apartment where the door is stuck closed. At last a child with untidy hair opens it. "She was my sister, but I had never seen her." The man she has until now believed to be her father is dropping her off. In the dining room, her birth mother receives her without ceremony or interest, not bothering to get up from her chair. When the girl runs back down to the car, desperate to convince her erstwhile father to take her back ("Mamma's sick, she needs my help. I'm not staying here, I don't know those people"), he removes her bodily from the front seat and drives away. "The tire marks and I remained on the asphalt....The air smelled of burning rubber. When I raised my head, someone from the family that was mine against my will was looking down from the second-floor windows." Raised an only child in a comfortable, middle-class home, accustomed to days at the beach and dance lessons, she finds herself in an apartment crowded with violent strangers. There's not enough to eat, and no bed has been arranged for her. She sleeps on a mattress stuffed with sheep's wool, holding the sole of her sister's foot against her cheek: "I had nothing else, in that darkness inhabited by breath." In spare, haunting prose, Di Pietrantonio shows a girl struggling not only to understand, but to survive and belong. "You haven't known poverty," her birth mother tells her, "poverty is more than hunger." Class inequality, misogyny, and sexism are all at work as well. Late in the novel, in a scene both harrowing and illuminating, her two worlds overlap when she and her sister visit the house of the woman who raised her.A gripping, deeply moving coming-of-age novel; immensely readable, beautifully written, and highly recommended.