Pub. Date: August 1, 2017
Source: finished hardcover via publisher (Thank you, Dial Books!)
Summary: 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.
Genre: YA, Contemporary
I’ll be honest: there are some books that show up at my door totally unannounced and, after reading the blurb, I think, yep, there’s a reason I wasn’t forewarned about this one. Either the author isn’t one I’ve enjoyed in the past or the book itself is so completely off from what I typically read and review that I instantly know a) chances are extremely slim I’ll dive into this new book and b) odds are good I won’t even like it. But then there are books that quietly slip in unnoticed: Liora Blake’s Second Chance Season, for example, is one of my favorites books of 2017. Serena Burdick’s Girl in the Afternoon and Carolyn Parkhurst’s Harmony are two other fantastic novels I wouldn’t have even known about if they hadn’t been handed to me. So what I’m basically trying to get at here is that sometimes the best books are the ones I didn’t see coming.
When he was 11 years old, Sam Walsh was abducted. A massive search ensued, televised pleas to his captor were broadcast almost nightly. As the weeks stretched into days and ultimately gave way to years, Sam’s family slowly lost hope, believing Sam had been killed. Only his mother held on to her conviction that one day she would see her son again. …and then that day came. Sam had been discovered, still living with the man who had taken him – and the worst part? For the past three years he had only been an hour away from home.
But the Sam who returned was not the Sam who left the house that day three years ago. He’s no longer the loud, rambunctious, annoying little brother Beth remembers. The boy who came back home certainly looks like Sam, but now he’s quiet, thoughtful, preferring to spend time alone drawing – a hobby he didn’t have before. As Beth tries to understand and reconnect with this new version of her brother, his former best friend Josh is battling his own inner turmoil: Josh had been with Sam the day Sam was taken…and for the past three years Josh has been harboring a secret he never told the police. A secret he never told anyone, one that could have possibly saved Sam from years of torture and trauma.
I’m just going to cut right to the chase here: this book was phenomenal. I can’t begin to count the number of books I’ve read featuring kidnapped teens who break free from their captors and return home like nothing happened. That’s not the case at all here. Sam changed, and whether that’s good or bad isn’t for me to say, but it’s an aspect to the book that struck me hard. Throughout the novel people ask Sam why he didn’t just leave – he had friends in the apartment complex where he lived with Rusty, he even had a girlfriend. They don’t understand how Sam could have possibly cared for this heinous man, but he did and in showing this complex, messy side of kidnapping, I realized Martin Wilson is amazing.
Though Sam is definitely the focus of the book, the novel is actually told from the perspectives of his older sister Beth and his friend Josh, another brilliant move. In alternating chapters, Beth struggles to get a hold on this sudden shift in her life. She should be thrilled, ecstatic that her brother was found alive and is home, right? But he’s not the boy she once knew and she isn’t sure how to coexist in the same house when she’s tip-toeing around him. At school she was simply Beth. No one knew her as the girl whose brother was snatched off the street. Now everyone knows her name, wants a piece of her 15 minutes and watching Beth juggle school, home, rocky friendships, it was great. Josh’s chapters show a boy full of guilt. He was with Sam That Day and witnessed something he never told a soul. Three years later he’s living in a new house and has been able to almost move on. While he constantly thinks back to the day Sam left, his more pressing concern is the realization that he’s gay.
Just a side note: I was a little concerned when I saw the LGBT tags on GoodReads. It’s not a spoiler to say Sam was sexually abused by Rusty and I really didn’t want the book to use that as an excuse to make Sam gay. I’m thrilled to say that’s not the case at all.
We Now Return to Regular Life is definitely a book I could talk about for ages. That I finished this near-400-page novel in a single sitting should say something and I couldn’t be more grateful to the publisher for sending it my way. This book isn’t one I would have picked up myself – or have even known about! – yet it is by far one of the best books I’ve read all year. If you want an intense, engaging, gripping, gut-punch of a novel, look no further! The book’s only downfall is that it had to come to an end and I’m so sad Martin Wilson only has one other novel for me to devour!