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Magan: Return to Me by Justina Chen

Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina ChenReturn to Me by Justina Chen
Publication Date
: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Divorce, College, Sixth Sense, Long-Distance Relationships
Format read: ARC received at ALA

Summary: Rebecca is on the brink of beginning her architectural education at Columbia; her parents have packed up their belongings to move from Seattle to New Jersey (yay?). Days after their relocation, Reb’s father announces that he’s been seeing another woman and abandons his family.

For those of you that loved North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, I am so hesitant to write this review. I, too, loved that book and had extremely high expectations of Return to Me. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same deep emotional connection with the characters, nor did I feel as rooted in the story.

My expectations for Return to Me were much different than the story that unfolded in the pages. I assumed Reb would be struggling to put her life back together while maintaining a long distance relationship and college. Much of the story is internal as Reb tries to answer the “What will I do with my life now?” question. Her father’s deception causes her to second guess every aspect of her life, which was often frustrating because she realizes how many of her decisions were made to make him happy. She begins distrusting Jackson, her boyfriend, as if her father’s affair has flipped a switch in her. She plays a game of cat and mouse with him as she tries to sort through all of her emotions. Reb’s uneasiness made me dislike her character and hate how she was toying with someone else’s life, much like her father had been manipulating hers.

One of my biggest dilemmas with Return to Me was the quick and abrupt decision-making on behalf of Reb, the main character. One moment she’s completely invested in making her relationship work long distance with Jackson, and the next page, she’s withdrawn and has a completely different outlook. Her actions weren’t always easy to understand, weren’t explained well, and were extremely contradictory. I do understand that a girl reeling from her father’s abandonment would be imbalanced and uncertain, but minimizing the amount of back-and-forth action would have made Reb a more relatable character.

There is also a psychic/intuition/sixth sense element that really detached me from the story. Reb had disturbing visions when she thought about her family’s move, as if she knew something terrible was going to happen. Reb and the women in her family have a way of getting glimpses of the future; her negative feelings were a warning for her father’s unfaithfulness. Oftentimes, Reb would have a vision or a back story would be told that had no context to support the story; this element seemed to justify information that wasn’t necessary and, as a reader, I only felt more confused.

Overall, the story could have been more focused. If the sixth sense aspect of the story had been disregarded, the story would have flowed better and negated some of the unnecessary confusion and complexity. The timing and pacing could have benefitted from more fine tuning and made the story more believable. Though I desperately wanted to love another of Chen’s book, Return to Me sadly wasn’t a hit for me and left me feeling like I should not finished it and, instead, moved on to something I would have enjoyed more.

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April 14, 2016 - 6:01 am

Return To Me by Justina Chen | Audiobook Review - […] Rather Be Reading – “sadly wasn’t a hit for me” […]

January 30, 2013 - 3:44 pm

Estelle's Shelve It: 1/20/2013 - […] bookish (sorta?) birthday list. A review of Take Me There by Carolee Dean. A review of Return to Me by Justina Chen. A review of The Secret Year by Jennifer […]

January 22, 2013 - 5:20 pm

Magan - Hannah: “Why they gotta be getting all supernatural?” <---- that's precisely how I felt. Just let something be good without making it weird. Too much is TOO MUCH.

January 21, 2013 - 4:12 pm

Hannah @ So Obsessed With - Aw sad to hear this just didn’t work! Sometimes I think things like this could have been caught and worked through with a really good editor. You know? I could see how an author might be so caught up in their own character and story that they don’t realize they are lacking some development and thought about the reasons behind certain decisions. That’s when I think an editor should help them tighten things up and really solidify the story.

Honestly though, it’s the sixth sense/pyschic things that made me completely lose interest in ever reading this. It looks like a cute contemporary. Why they gotta be getting all supernatural?

January 18, 2013 - 1:33 pm

Cynthia - I remember reading this one years ago when it first came out and really liking it, I was really new to reading YA so I thought it was great at the time. Now after reading so much awesome if I were to read it again I’m sure my opinion of it would change a lot. I agree that the cover is not fitting to the story at all and I was frustrated with the girl in this one. Great honest review Estelle!! =D

January 16, 2013 - 11:35 pm

Magan - Mands, your comment was SO spot on. Hurting characters? Bring them ON! When it ripples and things go downhill from there, no bueno. 🙁

January 16, 2013 - 11:34 pm

Magan - Lori, I agree that maybe your decision to skip it might be best. If you didn’t like NoB, then I think this might really be a turn off for you. 🙁

January 16, 2013 - 11:33 pm

Magan - Rachel, me either! Psychic element?! Um, what? I dunno. It was just unnecessary and made me really sad. There was so much potential.

January 16, 2013 - 11:33 pm

Magan - Alexa, yes. Definitely, definitely jumbled. To the point where I couldn’t connect w/ the character or even begin to assume what her next move would be.

January 16, 2013 - 11:32 pm

Magan - Taylor, I am so glad you’re still going to. I always like it when other people read books I was “MEH” about so then I can see if maybe I was just having an off experience. Can’t wait to see what you think!

January 16, 2013 - 11:31 pm

Magan - Amy, frustrating is such a good, good word to describe how I felt. And let down. Very bummed I didn’t love it. 🙁

January 16, 2013 - 9:30 pm

Amy @ Tripping Over Books - Ah, bummer! I admit, I haven’t read North of Beautiful yet, but it’s been on my radar for some time, and I was looking forward to checking this one out, too. There are really fewer things more disappointing in reading than a book that isn’t as awesome as you’d hoped. I’m sorry to hear, too, that there was that weird aspect with the visions that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. That can be so frustrating, when it seems like things are in a story and serve no purpose. WAH!

January 16, 2013 - 8:23 pm

Taylor @ Reading is the Thing - I really enjoyed Justina Chen’s other novels, so I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I’m sad this book didn’t click for you in the same way North of Beautiful give, but I definitely want to give it a shot anyway! Great review!

January 16, 2013 - 11:26 am

Alexa Y. - It’s always sad when a book doesn’t meet your expectations, especially when you’ve loved previous work from the author. I’m honestly a little put off by the way you’ve described the story, because it really does sound confused and jumbled up and like too many elements were put into play.

January 16, 2013 - 9:15 am

Rachel - I *loved* North of Beautiful so I definitely have high expectations for this book too. I haven’t read it yet but after reading your review, I might put it off. I never would’ve guessed there’d be a sixth sense / psychic element to it and I agree that it sounds unnecessary. It seems like all the changes in Reb’s life would’ve been more than enough to go on.

January 16, 2013 - 6:40 am

Lori - I’m one of those strange people that didn’t love North of Beautiful. So I think I’ll skip this one. The psychic element sounds unnecessary. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Magan.

January 16, 2013 - 4:18 am

VeganYANerds - This sounds so promising from the beginning but it lost me with the sixth sense aspect, I agree that this probably could have ditched that and been a better story!

Reb sounds like a confusing character, I can understand your inability to like her, I don’t mind a character who is hurting, but I do mind when they take that out on others.

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