Review: The Return by Rachel Harrison

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Berkley | 2020

Filed Under: Hopeful, despite the rotted teeth

This was definitely interesting. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but that isn’t a bad thing this time. It’s a novel I won’t soon forget and the catalyst for my decision to not read horror novels involving teeth for the rest of my fucking life. Thank you very much.

This is hard to review because it’s essentially a spoiler minefield from beginning to end, but I’ll do my best to explain why you should read this book if you’re looking for, what I’m calling, Girls’ Weekend Horror.

Honestly, I didn’t hate this. I might have actually really liked it. I think my expectations were tempered by the abundance of disappointed reviews I came across before I ever cracked this one open – and by cracked open, I mean swiped open because #netgalley. I get some of the criticisms, but for me, I had a good time. And I wasn’t even high!

stoned homer simpson GIF

Elise, Julie, Mae and Molly are college best friends who have drifted apart because of life shit. If you’ve aged passed your early 20s, you know how it goes. It’s so easy to be best friends in college, but once you’ve graduated and go your separate ways in life, it’s not as easy to maintain that bond or the regularity of seeing each other.

It also doesn’t help when one of you goes fucking missing.

missing season 5 GIF by Broad City

Julie, while solo-hiking through the Acadia National Park, as one does when they’re living out the Wild interlude of their life, disappears. No trace. No hope to find her in the 47,000-acre wilderness. After so much time has passed, Julie is legally declared dead. A funeral is held. Everyone moves on as best they can, but the friendship between the remaining three women falters as Elise refuses to accept that Julie is really dead.

Two years later, Julie comes home and Elise is vindicated. Julie has no idea where she’s been or what happened to her, and her odd behaviour does nothing to abate the concerns of her husband and Elise. But, to celebrate Julie’s return and try to put their friendship back on course, the four women organize a girls’ weekend at a fucking weird hotel, which brilliantly set the atmosphere for the bulk of the novel. It gave me some heavy Kubrick-esque vibes.

sacha baron cohen elevator GIF

Once the women are at the hotel together, a huge chunk of the novel is simply their interactions – conversations, reminiscing, airing out problems and some light bickering. It certainly rang true of female friendships and I found the personalities, conversations and issues to be very honest and relatable, if not a bit unlikable at times. However, it’s in this chunk of the novel that most of the creepy things should have been set up and I found that was delayed too long. At some point, you’ll wonder if you’re reading a horror novel or just women’s fiction.

But, it does pick up as the weekend rolls on and the state Julie is in just can’t be ignored any longer – think decaying and smelling like a used diaper filled with raw sewage. I won’t say any more than that.

bad alice lee GIF by ABC Network

The genuine quality of the women’s interactions stays cannon as they try to figure out what to do about Julie, or if there is even a reason to do something about Julie, with some of the friends more scared than others.

And let me tell you, if I was in that group of friends, put me in the fucking creeped out camp.

There were some legit moments in this novel that made me uneasy and on edge. The horror was unique, especially the fact that no men were really involved at all. I’m sorry, but I loved that. This was about women in all their forms – reprehensible, caring, good and evil and strong. And it was about friendships – how they change, how they last and how they feel.

It was a horror novel with heart. And it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year.


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. 

Book source: The publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

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