The Beach at Night

Elena Ferrante, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, illus. by Mara Cerri. Europa (PRH, dist.), $13 (48p) ISBN 978-1-60945-370-1
Accidentally left at the beach by a five-year-old girl named Mati, a doll endures a disturbing night by the sea in pseudonymous novelist Ferrante's (nominal) first children's book. Narrating in first person, the doll doesn't mince words, whether about the cat that she fears has displaced her ("I hope he has diarrhea, and vomits, and stinks so much that Mati is grossed out and gets rid of him") or about the Mean Beach Attendant who shows up, rakes the doll and other discarded objects into a pile, and sets them on fire, all while singing an obscene song ("Open your maw/ I've shit for your craw/ Drink up the pee/ Drink it for me"). Readers only learn the doll's name, Celina, when the beach attendant pulls a hook from his mouth, "hanging on a disgusting thread of saliva," to steal it from her. Cerri's eerie scenes of the glassy-eyed doll are well-suited to the ominous nature of Ferrante's story, but although Celina and Mati are eventually reunited, it's the disconcerting combination of the doll's intensely human emotions and complete lack of agency that leaves the strongest impression. Ages 6–10. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/24/2016
Release date: 11/01/2016
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