The Return by Rachel Harrison

An edgy and haunting debut novel about a group of friends who reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance.

Julie is missing, and the missing don’t often return. But Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and she feels in her bones that her best friend is out there, and that one day she’ll come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Summary from Goodreads


Sometimes I pick books up because of the stellar covers without really paying attention to the summary, or the reviews.

The only reason I mention this is because I wasn’t entirely aware of the horror aspect of this horror-thriller, though I’m not entirely unhappy about it either.

As a character, Elise reminded me a lot of Virginia from The Prized Girl, a recent novel I read. Not in the sense that they were too similar, but in the sense that they had the same ennui about their current situations. An ennui that, for Elise, was shattered spectacularly.

I’m not a huge fan of horror as a genre. I would say I have never really read straight up horror. I steer more toward what I call horror light, or perhaps, paranormal suspense. Mostly, I prefer a more Sam and Dean Winchester situation, with them walking in with shotguns, ready to take care of the monsters. It’s probably because I’m a scaredy-cat.

When I was finally clued in that there might be some real horror aspects to The Return, I was waiting for it to get to be too much. But Harrison kept it at a level that I could take, though that is not to say the hairs on my arms did not stand up. Harrison writes with a precision that made the creep factor of The Return zing right through you, propelling you to read on and on.

I finished the book in an evening, partly because I couldn’t put it down, and partly because I didn’t want to fall asleep without knowing the ending.

Without giving too much away, there were parts of the story that was the stuff of nightmares, but also parts that were weirdly beautiful. Though Elise was the narrator, there were four characters that drove the plot along: Mae, Molly, Julie, and Elise. All were three-dimensional characters and interesting, and I found the dynamics, while sometimes frightening, also fascinating.

SPOILERS AHEAD

When I first started the book, I sort of thought the horror aspect would be less apparent than it was. I was almost hoping for a more thriller reason, or a more human reason, for Julie to have disappeared like she did. When it didn’t turn out that way, I wasn’t disappointed, although I was reminded why I’m not entirely a fan of the horror genre.

Mostly, I was a little confused about what exactly Julie had become. It reminded me a lot of a mix of the Wendigo (Supernatural version) and a Rugaru (also Supernatural version). Mostly I was just confused about what exactly she was, and therefore, in a weird way, that lessened the horror of it for me.

This is just a matter of taste, however, and in no way reflects on Harrison’s writing ability.

SPOILERS END

What I definitely liked about this novel is that Harrison didn’t let it remain just one kind of novel. The problems that the characters were dealing with before and during the novel remained relevant to them, and the events of the novel were clearly defined as a moment in their lives. There is a sort of epilogue-ish moment at the end, and I was grateful for that as a reader because Harrison made me care about the characters beyond the few horror-filled days at the hotel.

I would recommend this novel for horror fans and thriller fans alike. As always, if you’re a reader that is sensitive to violence or intense scenes or images, I would read with caution. Like I said before, though, I am a scaredy-cat and I was able to enjoy the book until the end.

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