Book Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

The Returned by Jason MottThe Returned: What it is about

The publisher says: “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, 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: What I thought

The premise of this book sounded intriguing: what if the dead came back to life? No, not as zombies, but as the persons they once were, appearing from nowhere, the same age as when they died.

In the book, we follow a couple in their seventies, Lucille and Harold, whose son Jacob died at the age of eight, but has now returned. Lucille is over the moon, but Harold finds it hard to believe that this really is their son, and not a fake version of him.

The story was a personal story about love and loss, as well as a country-wide story about dealing with the large number of returned people. The government’s dealing with the situation reminded me somewhat of the way the Nazis treated the Jews (just put them all together for “processing”) as well as how slaves were treated (for certain kinds of people, different rules apply).

I would have liked to look into the minds of the Returned a bit more. They were featured at the beginning of each chapter, but I never got a clear idea of what they thought of the situation. Did they notice their loved ones were so much older than when they left them the first time? Didn’t they think that was strange? Weren’t there cases where parents who died young returned to their children who were now much older than they ever were? I missed those kind of technicalities in this story.

But, as the writer himself explains in the afterword, the book is all about the question what would happen if our loved ones reappeared from the death, from the viewpoint of the people still alive. This probably also explains why little attempts were made to explain how these people had returned. I guess it was more of a thought-experiment than a possible reality. With my scientific mind, I’d loved some more explanation, though!

Great scene:

“How’s your mother?”

“Dead,” he said, more flatly than he had planned. “Or maybe she isn’t. It’s hard to be sure these days.” [page 258]

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 352

First published: 2013

I got this: from Harlequin MIRA via Netgalley (ebook)

Genre: speculative fiction, science fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

26 Responses to Book Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

  1. I have this one to read for the RIP Challenge in September — I’m so glad you liked it!

  2. I had some of the same quibbles that you did with this one – I was really looking for more explanation, and (now that you mention it!) more on the Returned. The author’s note was actually one of my favorite parts of the book, I wish we had more of that in the story.

  3. Leslie says:

    I’m just past the halfway point of this one and was asking some of the same questions. I liked the short intros about the different Returned and was hoping it would come together towards the end but now I guess that’s not going to happen. Ah, that’s ok, I still like it and will probably finish it up today.

  4. Rory says:

    I’ve seen this book everywhere over the last few weeks. It seems to be getting mixed reviews, but what an interesting premise…

    • Leeswammes says:

      Rory, yes, very interesting. This book is coming out world-wide on the same day and there is a lot of publicity around it, I believe. Impossible to miss this one!

  5. I would have liked MORE information as well. I really did like this though. It brought up so many questions for me. I think this would be a great book club read 🙂

  6. Nadine Nys says:

    I’m not sure what to think about this one, the premisse sounds great, but… Mmm, I don’t know.

  7. Book Blather says:

    Sounds interesting. I liked the funny extract! 🙂

  8. Isi says:

    I saw this book in Ciska’s blog and her review really made me want to read it. Perhaps I also would miss that scientific explanation about the returned, but I think this is a book I would enjoy.

  9. Melinda says:

    I have seen so many reviews on this one and I have added to my TBR pile. I hope I enjoy it. I understand why you would have wanted more information or explanations on certain things.

  10. Hmmmm, I just might like to try this one. Thanks for the review.

  11. Care says:

    Sounds interesting. Like one that you just need to suspend the disbelief and go with it, see what happens.

  12. Charlie says:

    Sounds fascinating, and I like that they aren’t zombies. I don’t mind zombies but there are so many stories of them at the moment. Knowing what the returned thought, you’d think it would be important, but I suppose it can work without it as well.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Charlie, indeed, it was certainly good that they weren’t zombies. They were just people, but a bit lost, it seemed. They didn’t have a place in the world any more. That was definitely convincing – I just wanted to know a little bit more about their point of view.

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