Reading and relating to books from the perspective of a parent—that’s my whole schtick around here, but sometimes it’s not the most effective way to approach a story. That was definitely the case with The Returned by Jason Mott. I should have been thinking of it differently from the beginning.
As the story begins, people around the world are returning from the dead, and they don’t necessarily show up where they died. Jacob, for example, died in the United States when he was eight. Fifty years later, he reappeared in China.
He was eventually sent back to his parents, who are now in their 70s, in the U.S. When Jacob reappeared, his father began to struggle with whether the returned version of Jacob was really his son, while his mother outwardly accepted Jacob as her own.
I thought the story would follow this path as Jacob’s father struggled to learn to accept his miracle boy returned, and I instantly began putting myself into Jacob’s father’s shoes. I asked myself difficult hypothetical questions, like “What would it be like to lose my daughter and find her again, at the same age, 50 years later?” Or, “Would I be able to accept my sweet girl as the real version of herself, or would I struggle like Jacob’s father?”
I couldn’t answer the questions, and as it turns out, I didn’t need to, anyway. I was approaching the story from the totally wrong viewpoint.
Instead of following Jacob’s father as he tried to accept his son, the story took a strong turn. Before long, the government began locking up the returned. Protests, staged by those disturbed by the returned, broke out across the country. Jacob’s father refused to leave his son in the prison, and the two of them lived there together for a while. That is, until everything came to a head.
Eventually, Jacob’s mother comes to save not only her son and her husband, but another returned family, as well. The protesters and Jacob’s family clash, and things get ugly.
It was an entertaining story, but I’ll admit that I really didn’t get it until the end.
And then it hit me hard.
As I was reading the story I kept comparing it to The Walking Dead. When I finished the book, I realized that wasn’t what it was at all. In fact, I was so far off base that I wondered if I should re-read the story and think about it again.
But even after the story was over, something more powerful came. The author’s note made the entire story so emotionally relatable in a way that I hadn’t thought of while reading the story. Wow. I went to bed almost in tears. I wish I could say more, but I really don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who may want to read it.
Honestly, I think I was in the wrong frame of mind to read this story, and I didn’t realize it until the end. I went into it thinking like a mother, but I really should have gone into it thinking like someone who has lost someone close to them. When I think about the story from that mindset, it takes on an entire new meaning.
I really, really enjoyed this book, and though it wasn’t necessarily as intense as some others I’ve read, it definitely pulled on the heartstrings.
The Returned was the inspiration for the made-for-TV series Resurrection, which airs on ABC.