The Returning by Christine Hinwood is the last title I read to fulfill my own mission of reading all of the 2012 Printz and Alex Award winners and honor books. (It wasn’t last for any particular reason…it just took me that long to get it at the library.) The story follows many characters in the fictional town of Kayforl, from the end of the war between the Uplanders and Downlanders, through the union that brought the two feuding camps together. (The fact that it starts after a war is fascinating to me, as many fantasy novels are about the war itself.) All of the characters are complex, diverse, and lovely, and I enjoyed watching them grow, learn, and experience the inevitable changes that life brings. Pin is the little sister who loves her emotionally and physically scarred brother with no abandon, even when the rest of the town hates him for returning from the war when none of their kin did. Lord Gyaar is the young nobleman who puts honor and respect above money and power. Diido is the eccentric young woman who finally goes after the love she so deserves.
I enjoyed reading this fantasy-like tale of the Uplanders and Downlanders. Some of the terminology threw me for a loop, but context clues helped me figure it out. I like that Hinwood didn’t dumb down the maturity of romantic and familial relationships, of returning home from war, or of other difficult life experiences and feelings. She obviously considers her readers capable of understanding the themes, and doesn’t dumb them down.
I will definitely recommend this book to the teens in my library who enjoy reading fantasy, and even those who don’t self-identify as fans of fantasy. I think the elements of this novel can attract many mature teen readers, regardless of their topical interests.