Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina Chen

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moment she’s completely invested in making her relationship work long distance with Jackson, and the next page, she’s withdrawn and has a completely different outlook.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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17 thoughts on “Magan: Return to Me by Justina Chen

  1. VeganYANerds says:

    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.

  2. Lori says:

    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.

  3. Rachel says:

    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.

  4. Alexa Y. says:

    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.

    • Magan says:

      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.

  5. Taylor @ Reading is the Thing says:

    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!

    • Magan says:

      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!

  6. Amy @ Tripping Over Books says:

    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!

  7. Cynthia says:

    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

  8. Hannah @ So Obsessed With says:

    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?

    • Magan says:

      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.

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