By Gemma Malley
Published by Bloomsbury
Will Hodge's life is a miserable mess but he doesn't know how to get back on the right track. His mother has died under mysterious circumstances, he can't make any lasting friends, his father's life has been taken over by the radical political ideas that are gripping half the country, and each day brings problems that are alienating Will more and more from his family and social surroundings.
Will is insecure about his life and future, but he's not the sort of person to give up easily. He might think and worry too much, but he's not going to give up. After all, as Will tells himself daily, "You never know when things are about to change."
What he does know is that if his mum hadn't died, things wouldn't be as bad for either him or his dad. She would have kept the family together.
Set in England in the near future, Gemma Malley's The Returners plays out against an intriguing socio-political background. The recession has worsened and the country is sliding daily towards right-wing nationalistic extremes. The National Party has gained power, promising to make the country successful again by ridding it of "foreign" influences. A friend of Will's father , a policeman turned political activist, has persuaded Mr Hodge to embrace the new politics. These are dangerous times.
This tense, controversial background is crucial to Malley's novel, but it never gets in the way of the story. The Returners is set in disturbing political times, but it is not a political novel where the author hammers home his or her own standpoint. Malley has a gripping story to tell and doesn't let politics - or anything else - get in her way.
Will is influenced by the present political situation, but he is also influenced by his past. He can remember his mother, but there are things about her death he cannot recall. He hates history lessons because they give him headaches and terrible dreams. There is something from the past that is trying to get through to him.
Will realises that he is being followed by a group of people with a message for him. These are the Returners, reincarnated individuals who hold the memories of some of the most dreadful events in the past. Will discovers that he, too, is a Returner, but that he is different. He wasn't just a witness to some terrible event in history, he was responsible for making it happen.
There is a lot going on in this gripping and unusual read. The storyline, once it gets going, is never predictable, and Malley keeps her readers involved until the last page. We understand events as Will figures them out himself, and although at times he needs a good shake, we are on Will's side throughout. The Returners is a tense and at times uneasy book from a thought-provoking writer who doesn't offer simple solutions.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com