What if the people we have loved and lost were able to come back to us? In Jason Mott’s The Returned, they do. Across the world, people are returning to Earth just as they were before their deaths with seemingly no pattern or reason. After spending decades adjusting to the loss of their 8 year old son, Jacob, in 1966, Harold and Lucille Hargrave are both disheartened and thrilled to see their child re-appear at their door. But not everyone in the Hargrave’s small town, or the rest of the world world, is willing to welcome the returned with open arms. Communities are soon pushed to the brink, forced to sort out the true meaning of humanity.
Jason Mott's greatest strength is building characters that feel real in a setting that is hard to imagine. Harold and Lucille's playful banter is the perfect tool for showing both the painful years the duo has spent alone and their deep love for one another. At the same time, their differing religious opinions create another dynamic in their relationship while also highlighting one of the novel's major questions. Even with his secondary characters, Mott is able to bring in backstories that give readers good insight into lives and choices.
Based on a dream he had following the death of his grandmother, Mott’s concept for The Returned is brilliant. Many of us have wished for our loved ones to return, but plotting out what might happen if they did is a map with endless possibilities. While I don’t expect every loose end in a speculative novel to be tied up, I finished The Returned with many unanswered questions. After realizing it is the first in a series, I could not shake the sense that it was intended to be a stand-alone novel and had information removed to move into later books. Whether or not this is true, the spotty world building ended up slightly frustrating, disconnecting me from Mott’s well developed characters.
Positive or negative, The Returned raises dozens of questions and creates a perfect opportunity for discussion, which would make it a great pick for book clubs. Jason Mott has an open road before him and it will be interesting to see where the journey of The Returned goes next.