“We Now Return to Regular Life” by Martin Wilson is another book that made the Lambda Literary Award’s list of finalists in the Young Adult category and that has been on my wishlist, which I finally got around to reading.
The blurb is as follows:
Sam Walsh had been missing for three years. His older sister, Beth, thought he was dead. His childhood friend Josh thought it was all his fault. They were the last two people to see him alive.
Until now. Because Sam has been found, and he’s coming home. Beth desperately wants to understand what happened to her brother, but her family refuses to talk about it—even though Sam is clearly still affected by the abuse he faced at the hands of his captor.
And as Sam starts to confide in Josh about his past, Josh can’t admit the truths he’s hidden deep within himself: that he’s gay, and developing feelings for Sam. And, even bigger: that he never told the police everything he saw the day Sam disappeared.
?As Beth and Josh struggle with their own issues, their friends and neighbors slowly turn on Sam, until one night when everything explodes. Beth can’t live in silence. Josh can’t live with his secrets. And Sam can’t continue on until the whole truth of what happened to him is out in the open.
For fans of thought-provoking stories like The Face on the Milk Carton, this is a book about learning to be an ally—even when the community around you doesn’t want you to be.
The book “We Now Return to Regular Life” revolved around one evil act: the abduction of 11-year-old Sam Walsh. So when the story begins, Sam has been missing for three years and assumed by most people to be dead. His childhood friend Josh, with whom Sam had earlier been bicycling that day, was the last person to see him. His older sister Beth, who assumed Sam was dead, is dealing with some heavy, heaving guilt from the day of his disappearance.
But now Sam has been found and he’s come home. Beth wants to know what happened to Sam but her family refuses to allow anyone to discuss the topic. All we know is that he was kidnapped and held captive for three years by a man named Russell, who did unspeakable things to the boy.
Unable to speak with his family, Sam rekindles his friendship with Josh and begins to confide in him about what he went through during his captivity. But Sam’s sister isn’t the only one who’s feeling guilty. Josh is holding onto a horrible secret about that day — a secret with which he should have gone to the police but didn’t and because of that, he’s been plagued with pain, confusion and haunting “what-ifs”. But since their reunion and as Josh and Sam grow closer, Josh finds himself falling in love with his childhood friend.
Of course, as a reader, we want to know where Sam was, what happened to him, and who he was with. The rest of the book alternates between Josh and Beth’s point of view as the story slowly unfolds. Through their eyes, we not only see their struggles but also experience the difficulty and the challenges Sam is facing trying to once again fit into everyday life.
What follows is a heart-wrenching depiction of what it means for the victim and the victim’s family to survive trauma and it’s not an easy journey.
Pros – What I Liked
I liked how each person’s point of view encompassed not only the present and how everyone involved is dealing with Sam’s return but also consisted of flashbacks to the day of Sam’s kidnapping and the subsequent days that followed. But not only are we privy to their emotions and perspectives on the kidnapping, we also get a glimpse of Sam’s recovery, through the points of view of Beth and Josh. In this way, I enjoyed experiencing the story all these different angles. Beth and Josh really made me feel like a part of their world as they struggled themselves with Sam’s reemergence and attempted to process their feelings and work through their emotional turmoil in the process.
I also felt that the dynamics between Sam, his sister Beth, their mother, and their stepfather Earl seem very realistic, and I could relate to each of them. There is a range of emotions experienced by each of them: guilt, anger, confusion, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, rendering the story heartbreaking in places. So in essence, this isn’t just Sam’s story, but it’s also the story of those who are closest to him.
An even though we never experienced the story from Sam’s point of view, his desperate need to talk about what happened as evident and in opposition to those closest to him who couldn’t bear to hear it — and instead of supporting Sam, move away from him. Though Sam is hurting deeply, he isn’t willing to burden anyone with his pain, which I found heartbreaking. We really get a feeling for his struggle to find some sort of normalcy in his life after three harrowing years of abuse by his kidnapper, as he tries to get his life back.
I also really enjoyed the slow unraveling of the story. Each time we moved from one character’s perspective to the other, we learned a little bit more, like puzzle pieces slowly being snapped into place. I felt that the male/female, big sister/friend perspective also provided a nice balance to the story.
Cons – What I Didn’t Like
Though Sam was the main character and revolved around him, I didn’t get to learn or understand as much as I would have liked. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about how Sam was feeling and perhaps even know in more detail what he went through. In fact, I felt that each character has much more story to tell and some things are left unspoken. I also found that the abrupt change in the point of view could be jarring at times — especially when the character was just beginning to open up and then we suddenly switch to the perspective of the next character — and to a different point in the story. I also found some bits of Beth’s narrative a tad boring, especially in regards to high school dynamics.
There was also a minor non-graphic sex scene that was a bit disturbing and mind you, I’m no prude. I felt that this story may have been better with this scene being left out.
This is a powerful story packed with emotion and I really loved this book. I read a lot, and this year alone, I’ve have read some phenomenal books and without a doubt, We Now Return to Regular Life is one of those. It was a fast-moving, page-turning read and I felt the pacing of the story to be spot on. But this is a dark and heavy story in places, the nature of which can make it disturbing for the more sensitive reader. It’s always difficult reading about the abuse of children whether it be fiction or nonfiction and this book is no exception. Thus, sensitive readers should be forewarned about child abuse, sexual abuse, and kidnapping triggers. However, I felt that the subject matter has handled in the most delicate way possible and the author didn’t give us any horrifyingly graphic scenes. That being said, though the book does handle Sam’s situation with sensitivity, it also does it with a sense of realism. Still, this isn’t an easy topic to read about and was definitely an intense, gut-wrenching story and in my opinion, will be unforgettable.
Mr. Wilson has written a very realistic, fast-paced and beautiful story about survival, family, friendship, and love that will touch anyone’s heart. This sucker punch of a book was most certainly an experience and well worth the read, in my opinion. I can understand why it’s a finalist for Lambda Literary awards. This is the kind of book that will seep into your soul.
There’s so much more I could say about this book. I could probably talk about it forever, but I’ll stop now before I get spoilery. All I can say is that I heartily recommend it and give it 4.5 stars.
This review was transcribed from a video review on my “Roger’s Reads” YouTube channel