A once-favored doll abandoned at the beach anguishes at her fate.
When Mati’s father gives her a new cat at the beach, the 5-year-old white girl is so besotted she leaves her doll, this book’s narrator, behind at the end of the day. The doll’s understandable distress increases when she realizes she is at the mercy of the Mean Beach Attendant of Sunset and his friend, the Big Rake. As if being forgotten and then heaped into a pile with other beach detritus are not bad enough, when the doll protests the Mean Beach Attendant’s assessment of her as “ugly,” he sees opportunity in the words she holds inside her. Extending a Hook suspended on “a disgusting thread of saliva” from his mouth, he extracts the doll’s name from her. It gets worse: she is nearly burned to death, then washed into the ocean, then further violated by the Mean Beach Attendant and his “disgusting thread of saliva.” Toy protagonist notwithstanding, this book feels in no way like one for children. While many of the emotions articulated by the doll are convincingly childlike and not uncommon in children’s literature—her extreme hostility to the usurping cat and her fascination with the repellent Beach Attendant are similar to themes explored in Sendak’s Outside over There—their delivery undergoes no transmutation for a child audience. Neither does the book’s language: while there are doubtless many small children who complain about boys who “pee on our feet with their little dickies” and who hear coarse language in public places (the Mean Beach Attendant sings, “Open your maw / I’ve shit for your craw / Drink up the pee”), they and their adult caregivers are unaccustomed to seeing them in print in picture books. Not that this is a true picture book: with many text-only double-page spreads and illustrations that do little to extend the text, this book will try the patience of most young listeners. The Italian edition of this book is marketed to children 10 and up; the advertised audience in the United States of 6 to 10 feels just plain wrong.
For Ferrante’s adult fans who are longing for occasional pictures to accompany her words. (Fiction. 14 & up)