by Jason Mott
Harlequin MIRA; Aug. 27, 2013
Hardcover; 352 pages
Source: TLC Book Tours
In the decades since their 8-year-old son’s tragic drowning, Harold and Lucille Hargrave have learned to cope with their pain. Although the death of their only child created an unfillable hole in their marriage, they have moved on and settled into a mostly comfortable life. However, old wounds are reopened when Jacob, their son, turns up on their doorstep looking exactly as he did on the day he died.
Such occurrences have been happening all over the world. People who had died are returning to life, popping up in unexpected places. It’s clear that they are not zombies, but no one can agree what exactly they are or what should be done with them. This phenomenon becomes so common that an organization called The International Bureau of the Returned is formed to handle the formerly dead.
When a man from the Bureau returns Jacob to his parents, who are now in their 70s, they are conflicted about their feelings. Lucille sees his second chance at life as a miracle and is thrilled to have her son restored to her, but Harold is unnerved by Jacob’s sudden appearance. The boy’s been dead for nearly 50 years; surely the child standing before Harold with all of Jacob’s memories can’t really be his son?
The small, rural Southern town where the Hargraves live becomes somewhat of a hotspot for the Returned, and their presence causes a host of problems. Old tensions resurface as the town is confronted with the reminder of an unsolved mystery, and residents are divided by their convictions about what should be done with the Returned.
The concept behind this novel is a fascinating one; we often wish lost loved ones could be returned to us, but how would we feel if they actually were? What would the greater ramifications be if dead people began coming back to life? However, I thought the execution was lacking. I was left with far too many questions for this novel to really be satisfying. I don’t need to know why the dead returned (because I think that if this really happened, we would have no idea), but I wanted to know more about their experiences. What’s the last thing the remember before returning? How do they feel about being returned? Do they see everything as it was before, or how do they so easily accept the massive changes that have occurred since their deaths? What do they want from their second shot at life? Not enough questions were answered.
That said, Mott does a great job of evoking the setting of the close-knit town of Arcadia, and I liked the way he builds characters. I would have liked to know more about Harold and Lucille’s life since Jacob died, but I loved the way Mott slowly spins backstories that make some of his secondary characters come to life.
I also really enjoyed how the main story is interspersed with short vignettes written from the point of view of different Returned people. Many of them were touching, sad, or warm, and I loved being able to read about the experiences of the Returned.
All in all, this book has a great concept, but it left me with a lot of unanswered questions. It’s an easy book to become quickly absorbed in, and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.
THE RETURNED GIVEAWAY
The publishers of this book have kindly offered a copy of The Returned to give away. To enter, click the Rafflecopter link below. Please note that this giveaway is only open to US/Canadian residents. This giveaway will be open until 12 a.m. Sep. 11.