The Returners by Gemma Malley | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Returners

The Returners

3.1 7
by Gemma Malley

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London teenager Will Hodge is miserable. His mother is dead, his father's political leanings have grown radical, and his friends barely talk to him. To top it off, he's having nightmares about things like concentration camps. Then Will notices he's being followed by a group of people who claim to know him from another time in history. It turns out they are


London teenager Will Hodge is miserable. His mother is dead, his father's political leanings have grown radical, and his friends barely talk to him. To top it off, he's having nightmares about things like concentration camps. Then Will notices he's being followed by a group of people who claim to know him from another time in history. It turns out they are Returners, reincarnated people who carry with them the memory of atrocities they have witnessed in the past. Will realizes that he, too, is a Returner. But something about his memories is different, and with dawning horror, Will suspects that he wasn't just a witness to the events, he was instrumental in making them happen. Set in the near future, with the world on the verge of a new wave of ethnic cleansing, Will must choose to confront the cruelty he's known in his past lives, or be doomed to repeat it…

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Paula Rohrlick
Fifteen-year-old Will has felt haunted ever since his mother drowned when he was eight; strangers with sad eyes, whom he calls "freaks," seem to be trying to contact him. All he wants is to be left alone, but that does not seem likely to happen, especially because he is the witness to a murder and his testimony is vital to the trial's outcome. His abusive, bigoted father wants to frame an immigrant neighborhood boy for the death, Will knows the truth—or does he? Slowly, Will begins to understand that his frequent terrible nightmares are actually memories of the horrible experiences of Native Americans, of the Holocaust, of Rwanda, and even, perhaps, of genocide yet to occur. The "freaks" finally succeed in talking to Will and help him to see that he is one of them: a Returner, a soul doomed to come back repeatedly to absorb the miseries of humankind through time. Even worse, however, Will comes to realize that he not only suffers through these horrors, but he is also one of the perpetrators of misery. He is a killer, a tyrant, an evil soul. Is change possible? Thoughtful teens will appreciate the issues raised in this often-surprising SF/psychological tale, in which Will, although morose and capable of great cruelty, somehow evokes sympathy. The ending holds out hope, offering rays of light in the gloom, but this dark read may have limited appeal. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
Publishers Weekly
The sins of the past threaten to repeat themselves in the future, as Malley (The Declaration) offers a thought-provoking exploration of mankind's capacity for good and evil. In 2016 London, a fierce nationalistic sentiment encourages discrimination and violence against foreigners and immigrants. Meanwhile, teenager Will Hodges struggles with bouts of rage, his father's mercurial mood swings, his mother's suicide years earlier, unreliable memories, horrifying nightmares, and the sensation that he is being stalked. Soon it's explained that, like his stalkers, he is a Returner, destined to witness and remember historical atrocities while being reincarnated (“We experience the worst that humanity is capable of,” another Returner explains to Will, “we absorb the pain, contain the horrors”). When Will further learns that his role in past brutalities may not have been passive or unwilling, he rebels against his fate. It's an intensely philosophical study of free will versus predestination and the relationship between past, present, and future, though it suffers somewhat from Will's halting, present-tense narration. The concept is fascinating, and there are enough harrowing moments to hold readers' attention. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Will Hodges's mother killed herself a few years ago and since then he's been experiencing horrible nightmares, drifting away from his friends, and having difficulty at school. His relationship with his dad, whom he is beginning to realize is something of a bigot, is strained, at best. In addition, he finds himself in places without remembering how he got there or what he might have been doing in the interim. Worst of all are the "freaks" who are following him and watching him with strange, sad eyes. These people, who call themselves "Returners," are the element that distinguishes this from other novels of teenage woe. Will learns that he, too, is a Returner, one who lives again and again to experience humanity's pain. His nightmares of the Holocaust and other terrible events are actually memories. Later, Will figures out that he is different from the other Returners in that he has actually been the perpetrator of all the murder, torture, and violence that he remembers. His blackouts have hidden some of his own frightful actions such as bullying a friend's younger brother. The other Returners tell him that there is nothing that he can do to change, that he must abide by his destiny. Only in the final pages do readers discover if Will is doomed to this fate. This isn't a pleasant read, but it may appeal to teens who are grappling with the issue of violence, either personal or societal.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
Kirkus Reviews
George Santayana famously warned that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. This novel is about the condemned, those souls who return to relive the past. Will Hodge is only a teenager, miserable in a world where his mother is dead, his father can't be trusted and friends barely speak to him anymore. He's haunted by nightmares from the distant past. They're bleak, full of cruelty and painful images he can't shake. In the midst of all this, he witnesses a friend try to help a victim of street assault . . . or was he the one who committed the crime? Will is told he is one of the Returners, condemned to live out past horrors and commit new ones, to serve as humanity's collective memory. Will has a decision to make: Will he choose to repeat the past? Or create a new and different path? A strange book that will capture the attention of some while leaving others confused, it presents readers with the challenge that is always passed on to the next generation-the world is theirs and will become what they make of it. A good read, but not for everyone. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Declaration Series
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.00(d)
HL430L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Gemma Malley studied philosophy at Reading University before working as a journalist. She is the author of The Declaration and The Resistance, and lives in London with her husband and two young children.

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