Review: The Returned

I received this book for free from BEA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The ReturnedThe Returned by Jason Mott
Series: The Returned #1
Published by Harlequin MIRA on August 27, 2013
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: BEA

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.

First Sentence: “Harold opened the door that day to find a dark-skinned man in a well-cut suit smiling at him.”

At BEA, Harlequin was really pushing The Returned. The publicists were all really excited for it and recommending it highly. While a bit interested, I was also skeptical, because, hey, they’re publicists and pimping the more highly marketed titles extra hard comes with the job description. Well, in this case, they were right. The Returned is slow-moving, but elegant, graceful and thought-provoking.

The Returned is not going to work for every reader, though that’s not surprising since no book does. I suppose what I mean to say is that it will be a tough read for many. The pace of The Returned is slow most of the way through, though there is some serious speed right at the end. What Mott’s really digging into is the concept, so it’s a very philosophical read, a brainstorming of what such a strange occurrence could result in. If you need books packed with action and excitement, The Returned will not do that for you. Sure, it’s people coming back from the dead, but it’s not zombies and there’s no mayhem or brain-chomping.

In The Returned, Mott puts forth this concept: people who died begin coming back to life. They don’t all reappear, nor do they necessarily seem to appear in the location where they died. None of them remember anything between their death and returning to life, and they are all the precise age that they were at the time of their demise. All memories seem to be intact. Scientists can find no rhyme or reason in why anyone is returning and why some do or do not return.

Using a family in the small town of Arcadia as an example, Mott depicts the spiral of society into chaos and hatred as this phenomenon occurs. As one might expect, there’s a lot of discussion of what it means to be human and what the Returned really are. These people died but now here they are. Is it the same person or a different one? Should they have rights? The ethical concerns are fascinating.

Mott also looks at the possible logistical issues with regards to the Returned. Since they pop up in seemingly random places, like Harold and Lucille’s son Jacob who appeared in China, there’s the difficulty of sorting people back to where they belong. More of an issue, though, is what to do with all of these Returned if the formerly dead begin to outnumber the true living. The government doesn’t know how to handle the situation, and the public is torn between hatred and fear of them and joy and hope at having lost loved ones back.

What this does to interpersonal relationships is my favorite aspect, of course. A situation like this begs so many questions: if a person remarried after the spouse’s death and the spouse Returns, what happens? What if two teenagers were deeply in love until one of them died, and, now the dead one Returns still 16 with former love so much older? If they had sex would that be statutory rape or a whole new situation? In pretty much every way, no one has any clue how to deal with the Returned. It’s scary and confusing and hopeful and worrisome.

If you’re wondering whether The Returned is right for you, I point you to those hypothetical questions. Do you find the consideration thereof a fascinating enterprise or do you think that such speculation on something so utterly unlikely and illogical is pointless? If the former, read away. If the latter, probably not, I’m sad to say. The Returned lives in the hypothetical, and the beautifully simple writing likely will not be enough to save the novel for you if you simply do not care for that.

However, despite the fact that I loved the intellectual exercise, the writing, and that the ending almost made this hard-hearted reader cry in a public place, I did have a couple of issues with the book. First off, I think it’s a bit ridiculous that, at least towards the start, there was never any move to put The Returned to work, except for the one famous artist. I mean, come on, if there are more people then there will need to be more stuff, so there need to be more workers. Obviously. Also, I’m not a really a fan of how the book wrapped up, which, sadly, I cannot explain without spoilers. I just felt like it was sort of a weak and anticlimactic way to do it. I get why, as that ending is more poetic, but I thought it a bit too simple.

Though I have nothing against romance novels, I am really excited to see Harlequin broadening their horizons with titles like The Returned, especially since they’re doing so with such great books like this one. Patient readers who adore high concept reads that will really make them think need this book.

Favorite Quote:

There is a music that forms sometimes, from the pairing of two people. An inescapable cadence that continues on.

12 responses to “Review: The Returned”

  1. Faye M. says:

    Awww, I’m so happy you loved this, Christina. I normally love zombie books to death, but this one was such a refreshing and uplifting change and really full of questions that would make you thing. Did you tear up at the end? I think my heart cried a few… Great review!

    Faye @ The Social Potato

  2. Bonnie R says:

    Wow, I was skeptical about all the hype to begin with but the fabulous reviews on this just keep on rolling in. Really going to have to check this one out… fabulous review.

  3. I’m really looking forward to this one. I know it’s been hyped – and there’s already a tv show, too – so share that bit of leeriness, but I am glad to hear that it lived up to it in many ways! Have you read any of the prequel e shorts at all? I’ve got them all but haven’t jumped in just yet (The First, The Sparrow, and The Choice).

  4. Annie says:

    I haven’t heard much of this book but it sounds great! I, like you am happy that Harlequin is expanding their horizons as well! LOVED this review! Seriously, I envy your reviewing abilities. I think I’ll skip over to the bookstore on the 27th to get myself a copy of this book!

  5. Kayla Beck says:

    Okay, I have been really wanting this since I read about its sale. The hype made me a little hesitant about it (I didn’t preorder it!), but your review reaffirmed that I need this in my hands. “Intellectual exercise” was all I needed to hear…er… see.

  6. I heard good things about this one. I tried to get it on Netgalley but I was denied. I am still really curious about it but knowing that you enjoyed it,probably means I’ll hate it. We seem to have completely opposite tastes in books (Two words: Replica & Divergent)

    Glad you enjoyed it though 🙂

  7. Considering all the hype you mentioned, I haven’t heard of The Returned until right now. But I have to say it sounds really, really great, especially for when I’m in the mood for a more introspective novel (since right now I’m all about action action action.)

    I’m curious about what I’ll think of this considering we’ve been agreeing on things lately. I’ll definitely have to look for it at the library when the time comes.

  8. ablightedone says:

    This sounds really interesting. I love stories about missing people returning in general. There’s an episode of X-files where a kid returns and there was a show called The 4400 where 4400 missing people were returned, from different time periods and stuff. There are obviously other things but those two came to mind, which is only sort of relevant, sorry.

    The personal relationships would be really interesting! It’s sad the ending was simple, but at least it was still good as a whole! This sounds like a book I’d enjoy but I think it might go on my “someday” TBR. I have to be in a certain mood for books like this. I think it’s awesome that Harlequin is stepping out of just romance, too. I was surprised to see the publisher was Harlequin on this one, but that’s nice!

  9. AD Starrling says:

    Quite intrigued by this. Although I haven’t read the novel, the synopsis immediately made me think of the chilling and superbly made French drama series Les Revenants, released last year in France and recently featured in the UK on Channel 4 (English subbed). Some of the Amazon reviews of this novel also make the same comparison. If you liked this book, I think you’ll love the French drama series. Season 2 is scheduled for release next year and I for one can’t wait. And the soundtrack and theme music for Les Revenants is hauntingly beautiful. It literally gives me chills!

  10. I have to admit, I initially wanted this book for the cover. But after seeing your rating I feel like I must buy it RIGHT NOW. Damn this book buying ban. I’ll have to add it to the October or November list, since you’ve already forced me to buy A Long, Long Sleep for September.

    I only skimmed your review, because of my whole spoiler/DONT READ REVIEWS thing, but it made you cry?! Oh, I am so on this. It’s going to break me, I can tell.

    Also I think Tatum would love this one. It sounds like her kind of thing.

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