Will Hodges is having a tougher time than most. Since his mother died, he's been trailed by strangers who seem to know him. He'll be walking along the street when he'll see recognition in the eyes of one of them - those hollow, sad eyes that seem to look into his soul. And for an instant, he thinks he recognises them too.
When one of the strangers finally corners him, she claims that they do know each other. They're both Returners, but she can't tell Will what that means. He'll have to remember for himself...
The Returners is a book of two halves. In the first half, we have British teenager of the near-future Will Hodges starting to unravel the secret of why mysterious strangers with sad-looking eyes stare at him on the street as though they know him. In the second half, we witness Will trying to come to terms with the truth he's uncovered, and struggling with his own conscience as well as some pretty weighty political issues. As a whole, The Returners is a rollercoaster ride of a story that explores good, evil and everything in between.
Since this is a story about a boy struggling with huge moral dilemmas, our MC Will isn't always the easiest character to like. He's the kind of character who has learned by his father's example to treat those who are different with suspicion, and he's also been through a lot of trauma in his life. At times his actions are abhorrent, but throughout the story there's always a glimmer of hope to ensure that the reader doesn't give up on him. The novel is as much about Will's inner journey as the mystery of the strangers who follow him - and his inner journey is an incredibly dark one.
What really impresses about The Returners is the way that Malley addresses the subject of genocide and racism with such complete frankness. She's imagined a near-future that seems to spring directly from the real-world present, and I honestly felt that I could trace some of the extremist behaviour of characters in her year-2016 Britain right back to our political climate today. It's fascinating, and more than a little worrying.
Gemma Malley approaches key issues in our society in a way that speaks directly to her YA audience without ever being patronising, and I'm full of admiration for that. This one's quite different from The Declaration or The Resistance, but it will definitely tide fans over until the third novel in that trilogy is published - as well as earning Malley some new ones.
Out: February 1st 2010, UK / March 2nd 2010, US