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Review of A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Hello, everyone! From Pasadena, California, this is Jill Hunting for the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club 2024 Summer Read.

I’m excited to tell you about a book I read recently, A Girl Returned, translated into English, from the Italian by Donatella Di Pietrantonio. It is a beautifully written novel and a good choice for summer because it’s just 160 pages long, in paperback, with short chapters so you can pick it up and put it down easily.

But you probably won’t do that, because the pace is brisk and you will want to know what is coming next in the life of this 13-year-old girl, who is given back to her biological parents after years with a couple she believed were her mother and father. She is given no explanation. Her mother had been bedridden. Was that it?

“I had been happy,” she tells us. “I had been loved. I had been somebody. Now, I was just a girl returned.” Why did the false parents return her? Make her an orphan, but with two living mothers? Like many great stories, A Girl Returned hinges on a mystery. It is complex, with the nature of motherhood at its heart. And it will be revealed.

The woman I’ll call Not-Truly-Mother and her husband, who coldly drops off the girl with only a suitcase and some shoes dumped in a bag, are well off. Who opens the door of her new household but someone who looks like her, a sister she doesn’t know she has. This new family—that is, her real family—is poor. They don’t behave like her or talk like her. Two brothers bully her. Another leers at her. The sister, with whom she must share a mattress, is a chronic bedwetter. Not-Truly-Mother occasionally brings gifts to the house. When she sends a new bunkbed and mattresses, the sister soils both of them.

In spite of everything, the two girls grow close. Different as they are, our young heroine realizes, “We are all in this together, navigating the winding path of life.” An excellent student, she ultimately comes into her own when her intellect is recognized. By the end of the book she is headed to a good high school. We wonder how her life will turn out. We know that she has acquired what is called agency, a sense of control over her own destiny.

The translator of this book, originally written in Italian, is the same Ann Goldstein who translated the Elena Ferrante novels known as the Neapolitan Quartet. I loved those, too, beginning with the gripping My Brilliant Friend.

For now, I recommend A Girl Returned. It isn’t just for a female audience. My husband said, in fact, that a man who reads this book will be respected for it. A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio was translated from Italian to English by Ann Goldstein.

Happy summer, everyone, and happy reading!

Jill Hunting
Jill Hunting

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jill Hunting is the author of two historical memoirs, including Finding Pete and For Want of Wings: A Bird with Teeth and a Dinosaur in the Family. Wings is set partly in New Haven, Connecticut and in the fossil beds of Wallace County, Kansas.

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