Book Review: ‘The Returned’

The Returned

The Returned by Jason Mott is an amazing book, especially if you like books that make you think but that don’t give you the answers to the questions they raise. The premise is that dead people come back to life, but it is so much more than that. These returned, as they are called, are not zombies, they are returned the same age and condition they were in when they died.

If you were given a second chance at life would you take it? Would you want it? Would you want a second chance at being with a loved one? What is the definition of being human? If loved ones, family, and friends returned from the dead, would it be a wonderful, miraculous event or something darker?

Jacob Hargrave died in 1966 at his eighth birthday party. Now, 50 years later, he is back – unchanged – found sitting at a stream in China. He is soon reunited with his parents who are now in their 70s. This is happening all over the world, and people are desperately seeking answers. Some are bitter and seeking answers as to why their loved one has not returned, others are overwhelmed by happiness, and some are questioning if the returned are really alive.


Many, many people think their returned family member, friend, or loved one is a miracle to be welcomed and cherished, but others see the returned as not human – going so far as to call each one “it”, instead of he or she or using their name. Shortly after the dead come back, sides are taken: those who want to protect the returned, and those who want to get rid of them, either by segregating them in camps or by killing them.

Though it is strange enough that the dead men, women, and children come back to life, another oddity is that they come back in geographical locations having nothing to do with them before they died, like one of the main characters, Jacob. Some of them are reunited with their family, others are kept where they arrive. The federal government sets up an agency to deal with them, attempting to segregate and question them by corralling whole towns and turning them into camps. Some friends and family members are in the camps with the returned because they refuse to leave their loved one in the deplorable conditions of the camps where they will be all alone and subjected to the unknown at the hands of the government.

You will definitely search for answers to questions you may have never asked regarding life and death. Would you want to see your loved ones one more time? Say one more thing to them? Have them back for even a little while? This book will make you ponder these questions, doing so by weaving vignettes of the happenings of some of the returned while concentrating on one small town in North Carolina and how those townspeople handle this phenomenon.

The Returned is an incredibly interesting and fascinating book that is extremely well written. This is the first book I’ve read where the author’s notes at the end of the book are as enjoyable and thought-provoking as the book itself, so don’t skip over them. The power of love and forgiveness, and the grief of loss are experienced by the reader as well as by the characters in the book. This is one not to miss.