Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review - The Returned by Jason Mott

The ReturnedTitle: The Returned
Author: Jason Mott
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Pages: 352, Hardcover
Goodreads Rating: 3.77 stars
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
My Content Rating: PG (Some violence, no sex)

Summary from Goodreads: Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were.

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time ... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

The Returned is an emotional story that poses an interesting question - What would happen if the people we have loved and lost returned many years later?  Would we welcome them with open arms?  How would they fit into our lives after so much time had passed?  

In The Returned these questions and more are posed.  When long-dead people suddenly start appearing out of nowhere, it creates a worldwide controversy.  First of all, no one is sure what these people are.  Are they truly the same people who had died, suddenly come back to life?  Or are they something more sinister than that?  Families must decide whether or not they want to embrace these returned loved ones.  Then there is the simple issue of population control.  With so many dead people returning, many without easy ties to the modern world, how are they to be supported?  Where will they live and who gets to decide what is to be done with them?  The response to the Returned varies from love and kindness to terror and outrage and everything in between.

The negatives:
  • The pace.  Sometimes this book moved a bit slowly for me.  While the blurb made me think that this book would be a paranormal novel, it reads more like literary fiction than genre fiction.  The focus of the story is on the emotional implications of the situation.  And while there are plenty of questions presented about who the Returned are and where they came from, the focus of the novel is not answering those questions.  So, while the book was interesting on an emotional level, it sometimes felt slow to me.
  • Many POV's.  I'm not a big fan of books that are told from many points of view because I feel like I always end up not really caring about the parts of the story that are told from more minor characters' POV's.  I end up feeling bored or frustrated during these parts.  In this book, I generally enjoyed the parts that were told from Harold or Lucille's POV, and sometimes appreciated Fred's POV (he is one of the main people who are really against the Returned and reading from his POV helps explain why) but didn't enjoy others as much.
  • No solid answers.  If you're the type of person who doesn't like mysteries to be presented if they're not going to be resolved, this is not the book for you.  There are lots of questions about the Returned, but none of them are actually answered.  Are the Returned the same people who had once lived?  You'll have to read the book and then make that call for yourself - there are no pat answers given.
What I loved:
  • The questions posed and the emotional depth of the story.  As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, this book really evokes a lot of questions about what would happen in these circumstances.  I found it very interesting to think about how the world would react if people just suddenly appeared again after being dead for many, many years.  In the case of Jacob, he was still eight years old, but his parents were now in their seventies.  They felt very unprepared to be thrust back into child-rearing at their age.  In another case in the book, a long lost love is returned, but the person who was left behind has moved on and is now married.  His lost love's return has many ramifications because he had been holding onto her memory for so long and because he had felt guilt regarding her death.  How does he deal with all of that and where does it leave him where his marriage is concerned (and is his lost love's return ultimately good or bad for his current marriage)?  And how would it feel to have a love one returned, but not to be sure if the person was really who they once were?  Then there are those people who didn't return - why didn't they return and what does that do to the people left behind?  And these were just the examples given in the book - I could sit all day and think about the what if's.
  • No solid answers.  Ha!  I know I listed this as a negative (and it definitely might be for a lot of people), but in some ways the fact that there were no specific answers was a good thing.  It kept me thinking about the book, pondering what really happened.  I also really appreciated this even more when I read the author's notes at the end of the book and understood Mott's motivation behind the book.  He wasn't writing a paranormal book about the dead coming alive - he was writing a book about the emotional ramifications of being able spend time with those you thought you'd lost. (And about the ramifications for society as well).
The Returned gave me a lot to think about and was an emotionally compelling novel.  It did feel slow at times and it won't appeal to people who don't like unanswered mysteries in their books, but I enjoyed it overall.  I give it 3.5/5 stars.

***Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the NetGalley and Harlequin in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given. All opinions are my own***

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