Review Blog

Mar 22 2010

The Returners by Gemma Malley

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 978 1408800904.
(Ages 13+) The author of The Declaration and The Resistance, has produced another absorbing story of the near future, one in which the hero, Will, seems out of place. Always on the outside, his mother's suicide isolates him even more, and his father's taciturn and surly nature makes him a person to avoid. His once close friend, Claire, is seldom seen, and her relationship with Will's next door neighbour, Yan, drives them further apart. But it is the people he sees that no one else sees that cause him the most grief. Very early he learns not to talk about them, as others think he is going the same way his mother did, and avoid him even more.
His dreams become more intense, dreams of horror, of people dying, of slave ships, of war, but the horror at home bubbling under the surface comes to the fore when he sees his friend, Yan, kneeling over the body of the local post office proprietor, trying to resuscitate him. His racist father, a member of the growing Nationalist Party, uses what Will saw as a verification of Yan's guilt, and so Will is further isolated from his father and Claire, as he grapples with the question of what is the right thing to do.
His mind returns again and again to his mother's suicide, and this is a backdrop to his father's growing racism and Will's disillusionment with his father and his new friends. The Returners, those people in the background of Will's life, urge him not to fight, to accept, but eventually Will realises the truth of the situation and takes action.
Told barely like this, the nuances, shades and sub plots of this book are not exposed. To talk of them will give away the core of this tale, one which impels readers to rethink the way they have read the book, and indeed, respond to it. Mother's suicide could be seen as a catalyst for the depression of both men in her life, each responding in a different way to the loss of her life, and their role in it, but the layers of meaning will be eagerly discussed by the readers as they ponder differing ways of seeing what Will sees.
I was cross with the story about part way through, then I thought I saw the light, but was cross over again, and when I finished it sat down and thought about it for many days before coming to a conclusion, well, perhaps several. It will take the reader time to digest and assimilate the ideas in this book, and any reader will come away satisfied that they have read it, allowing them time to reassess their actions in such circumstances. The sub plots of racism, depression, relationships and crime will linger along with the bigger issue of where our responsibility lies in our society.
Fran Knight

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