Book 248; THE RETURNED Review

The Returned by Jason Mott
ISBN:  9780778315339 (hardcover)
ISBN:  9781459236639 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00ATMP806 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 27, 2013 
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

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.

Mr. Mott attempts to answer the age-old question “what if you could talk to the deceased one last time” in The Returned. However that one last time lasts quite a bit longer than anyone could ever imagine. 

Harold and Lucille Hargrave are currently in their seventies and live a peaceful (relatively) life in rural North Carolina. They’ve been married for more than fifty years and mourning the tragic death of their son for fifty years. Jacob was celebrating his eighth birthday when he died in a tragic drowning accident. He’s been buried and mourned for decades. His parents are moving on with their lives until they begin to hear of “the returned.” They wonder what their reaction would be if Jacob were to return. Their hypothetical question becomes reality when an agent for the International Bureau of the Returned knocks on their door accompanied by their son, Jacob — still the same age as when he died, eight. Soon others from their town are returned. As more and more people “return” the government isn’t quite sure what to do with them. Before long, the International Bureau of the Returned and the US Government commandeer the town of Arcadia and begin to turn it into a camp for the “returned.” Harold refuses to leave his son in the camp alone and he quickly becomes a prisoner of these new internment camps. Regrettably, there are those that aren’t happy with the “returned” and see them as demons or devils. These factions begin to picket for the rights of the living vs. the returned and their actions slowly take a violent turn. 

Mr. Mott presents a unique story and it’s presented in such a way that it is impossible to judge the living or returned negatively. People want to know where these returned came from? Why aren’t they returning to the place of their death (Jacob returned to China before being relocated back to the US)? And then there’s the big question, why have they returned? These questions are left to the reader to answer. The Returned isn’t a true science-fiction or paranormal story, but a fantastically told contemporary story that deals with a slightly science-fiction or paranormal element. The “returned” are alive. They eat, drink, sleep, and bleed. This story presents an interesting view on life, death and how far some are willing to go to be with and protect their loved ones. It also raises some intriguing questions about life after death. The “returned” literally and figuratively turn the world upside down for the living. 

I found The Returned to be an engrossing read that captivated my attention from the very first word to the last. I actually read The Returned and its three prequels (The First, The Sparrow, and The Choice) in one sitting (yes, they are that good!). I found the characters to be very realistic and all-too human with their quirks and idiosyncrasies (loved Harold and Lucille). Although the subject matter may seem to be a bit far-reaching, it made quite an impact on me. Consider I read these more than two months ago and I can still vividly recall the characters, settings and action. If you’re looking for a well-written story that presents something a little different then look no further. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Mott in the future.

FYI: The Returned has been optioned and is the inspiration for a new television series. The series “Resurrection” is scheduled to air beginning March 2014 on ABC here in the US.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Day 95 – Book 91: THE FIRST


This novella centers around Reena Jamil, a 22-year old Muslim, Pakistani immigrant and a senior majoring in Accounting at George Mason University. During her last semesters/quarters she meets an American young man, Brian Parker, and experiences her first crush or love. Brian is majoring in management but has no idea what he wants to do with his life beyond graduation, whereas Reena has her life planned: graduate, study for CPA exam, pass exam, get accounting job, and eventually get married. Reena’s parents, however, expect something different…marriage to a good Muslim, Pakistani man and kids. Reena’s best friend, Sofia, is also a Muslim, Pakistani immigrant and tries to guide her in the ways of American dating and expectations. Obviously she isn’t the best guide because she is cyberstalking an old friend from Pakistan, Reza Shaikh.

Reena and Brian breakup after only a few months of dating. The cause of the breakup is Reena’s unwillingness to compromise her religious beliefs by having sex with Brian. Brian feels that Reena is simply playing with him and his emotions as she never expected the relationship to develop further than it had prior to the breakup. Since this is Reena’s first boyfriend and first breakup she is devastated. Obviously not too devastated because she quickly rebounds and finds herself engaged to Brian’s Pakistani roommate, Raheel Malik. At the same time that Reena and Raheel are getting engaged, Sofia is surprised by a visit from Reza and they also become engaged.

Fast-forward a few years and Reena and Raheel are having marital difficulties. She has quit her job and has been diagnosed with infertility issues. This is problematic because in certain cultures a woman’s worth is based upon her ability to procreate. The final blow to the marriage is when Reena randomly encounters Brian after many years and invites him to dinner. Raheel explodes as he presumes she has been with an ex-boyfriend and that is a slap to his ego. Is Raheel experiencing true jealousy or simply suffering from false-pride based on cultural and familial values? Mirroring these problems, Sofia finds herself pregnant and Reza is astounded that she would make such a decision (stopping her birth control pills and attempting to get pregnant) without discussing it with him first. Reza has had difficulty finding “gainful” employment in the US and is suffering because his wife is making more money than he is…big slight in some cultures.

Fast forward another few years and Reena is living in North Carolina and working part-time in a bookstore. She encounters a pregnant teenager that has been kicked out of her home. And guess what? Reena takes her in and winds up adopting the infant. Adoption was something her ex-husband Raheel would never consider because he desired a child of his flesh and blood.

There are some major cultural, religious and age-related issues that are superficially addressed in this story, most likely due to the short nature of the story. Ms. Ahmed has an interesting premise and possibly great characters, but the characters seem underdeveloped and they all appear to have maturity issues. Again, this deficiency may also be related to the brevity of the story. The First may not be considered great literature and has a few problem areas but it is still a decent read, at least in my opinion.

DISCLOSURE: This book was received free from the author/publisher for review purposes. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”