The Return by Nicholas Sparks
Though I’ve enjoyed a couple Nicholas Sparks’s books, I wouldn’t describe myself as one of his core readers. This one was a loan from the Library of Grandma. When reading it in public, I unwittingly gained entrance to a secret club of Nicholas Sparks fans who smiled and gave me an OMG-don’t-you-just-love-him look I didn’t quite understand. They asked which of his books was my favorite, with the expected reply apparently being ALL of them. After finishing, I determined 1) Nicholas Sparks’s books are best read in private because 2) Nicholas Sparks fans are a special breed of human who speak a language made almost entirely of sighs of longing.
When a mortar blast injury sends surgeon Trevor Benson home from Afghanistan, he regroups in the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather. Love is the last thing he expects to find while tending his grandfather’s beehives, but the mysterious Natalie Masterson captures his attention. The deputy sheriff seems to reciprocate his feelings, but she reveals little of herself, even though she assists him in investigating his grandfather’s strange last words.
To discover the meaning of his grandfather’s final message, Trevor tries to recruit the sullen teenager from the trailer park down the road, Callie. She offers few clues until a crisis reveals a connection between the elderly man’s passing and her own troubled past.
Trevor Benson has the right mix of serious backstory and charm to make him intriguing and attractive to the average reader. I appreciated the openness with which he relates his struggles with PTSD and the positive light in which he views his mental health treatment. A devoted grandson and all-around good guy, he is easy to love.
Callie starts off as a flat character with stereotypical teenage stonewalling. She gains depth by the end, but I would have liked more of her situation to leak through earlier. Natalie is interesting at the outset, but her backstory is too predictable for the mystery to keep the reader’s attention.
The plot waffles between Trevor’s rapid-onset infatuation and the mystery of his grandfather’s last journey, which leads him to seek information from the sullen teenager. I liked that all the subplots intertwined in the end, but they felt disjointed toward the beginning, almost as if they were different books. I had trouble getting into this book and only finished because I wanted to return it to my grandmother when I visited.
Sparks’s prose is light in tone and full of detail, though far from breathtaking. The story reads like a walk through the neighborhood, ambling unhurriedly and stopping to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. Though hardly action-packed, the style was appropriate to the target audience.
With a charming protagonist and intriguing premise, I can see how a devoted Nicholas Sparks fan would love this book. As someone who merely grabbed it off the stack, I can say it was an enjoyable read, but one I’ll quickly forget. Too many subplots hindered my ability to engross myself in the story. While the author tackles many deep topics in the characters’ backstories, he takes too long to introduce them, and lacks time to explore them sufficiently before the end. As far as Nicholas Sparks books go, I much preferred Safe Haven and The Notebook.
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