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Reviewed by Colleen Turner

A sad yet universal truth seems to be that, as humans age and interact and grow, they inevitably face the sadness and loneliness of losing someone they love. We lose friends, parents, spouses, children, sometimes under devastating circumstances and nearly always before we are ready to let go. Many of these losses leave us completely bereft or riddled with guilt of one kind or another. But what if we were able to see those loved ones again, given the chance to make different choices or simply appreciate them in a way we didn’t the first time around? Would we be able to finally find the closure denied us in the past, even as we struggled with how long we might have these loved ones in the present? In The Returned, Jason Mott presents a story where this incredibly alluring premise becomes a reality, with actions and consequences both delightful and devastating.

When Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s only son Jacob drowned at his eighth birthday party in 1966 they were utterly heartbroken. Harold blamed himself for telling his young son wild stories about treasures found near the water and turned his back on the God that would allow his son to be taken. Lucille turned even further into her Baptist beliefs in search of an answer that never quite came. However, as decades past and they continued their lives in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina, their sorrows receded and they moved on, even if they never forgot. Then the dead started popping back up all around the world, looking and acting exactly as they did the last time they were alive, and their sweet and precocious eight year old Jacob arrives at their door, scared but happy to be home.

As both Harold and Lucille struggle with whether or not this young boy is in fact the son they buried so long ago – and whether his presence is a miracle or an abomination – they can at least agree that this Jacob is someone they must protect. As the Hargrave family, the town of Arcadia and the entire world struggles through the continuous influx of “Returned” people, the best and the worst of humanity comes out in full force. When the community around them begins to collapse, the Hargraves will have to stand up for what they believe is right even as the world begins to tumble down around them.

Interspersed with the Hargraves’ story are small snippets into the lives of some of the Returned struggling like everyone else to figure out why they are there and to try and resume the lives they had before they died, something that proves harder than they would imagine. Between these glimpses into the lives of the Returned, those that have had their loved ones returned to them and those that find the Returned frightening and a sign of the end of the world as they know it, the reader is forced to understand and appreciate each side even as they struggle to determine exactly how they would feel if thrust into the same situations. Would you embrace this previously dead person and try to resume the life you had with them or would you turn them into the government that is quickly rounding up these Returned people into little better than prison camps? Would you work to try and protect these previously dead people who are just trying to move on or would you turn your back on them in fear? So many of these questions will touch the heart of the reader and will make for intense and excitable book group discussions.

While faith and religion do play a part in The Returned it is anything but preachy. The story is much more about the emotional and psychological journey than about the particular devoutness of the characters or the reader. I found myself heartbroken at the sometimes heinous actions taken against these strange people even as I could understand why someone would be so scared by their very presence. I tend to be someone who feels pretty strongly about most situations, and I was continually surprised by how emotional I got at the various responses to these characters. The Returned is tender and violent in turns and completely unlike anything I have read before, nor a story I will soon forget.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by Harlequin MIRA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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