In this U.S. debut by an award-winning Italian writer, an adolescent girl raised middle class by a couple she thought were her parents is abruptly returned to her birth family in an impoverished and brutal household very different than the one she knew.
A Girl Returned caroms from one side of the [Italian economic] divide to the other. The zig and zag is always eye-catching, and before long we care deeply about where every shot will land ... The brief, bumptious chapters cover roughly a year, and the lead player doesn’t come of age so much as rip away childhood’s masks ... Di Pietrantonio never allows her story to wallow in despair. She has more spunk than that and not just in her lively way with a phrase (the translator, Ann Goldstein, shows the same sensitivity she does with Elena Ferrante). She also has a fine instinct for detail ... Better yet, she knows how to mix things up, scene after scene ... Tragedy shadows every move, even if overall the novel feels a tad rosy ... Still, A Girl Returned doesn’t gloss over the nasty by-products of living out beyond the last bus stop ... [Di Pietrantonio] has worked up impressive narrative craft. She knows just when and where to slip the pieces of her jigsaw into place—all while leaving emotional gaps, psychic wounds that can never heal.
...[a] searing translation from the Italian ... Ann Goldstein’s sensitive, simple, image-rich translation immediately absorbs the reader in the universe of the text and provokes empathy for the young narrator. Tasteful foreshadowing creates a sense of cohesion. Each character is sublimely human, both lovable and reprehensible, which further complicates the confrontation between the sheltered girl and the complex world to which she is now exposed. The expert pacing of the text emphasizes poignant moments by stopping time to take stock of sensations ... Di Pietrantonio and Goldstein have delivered a controlled and exacting interrogation of human relationships that confounds both the mind and the heart in the most delicious way.
... a captivating tale about the trials of settling down, fitting in and battling on amid emotional upheaval ... For most of the novel Ms Di Pietrantonio keeps both her protagonist and her readers in the dark. All their questions are answered by way of shock truths in the final act, in which the girl and her mamma are brought together for a powerful showdown. Expertly translated by Ann Goldstein, A Girl Returned is as heart-warming as it is heart-rending. Both the heroine’s resilience and her confusion are poignant—as is her naive belief that her loved ones will realise their error and come to collect her. In this shrewd examination of identity and belonging, Ms Di Pietrantonio ensures that her character’s loss is her reader’s gain.