Return to Me by Justina Chen Headley
Release Date: Jan. 15, 2013 | Publisher: Little, Brown, 352 pages | Buy it
About the book:
Nothing is going as planned for Rebecca Muir. She’s weeks away from starting college–at a school chosen specifically to put a few thousand miles of freedom between Reb and her parents. But her dad’s last-minute job opportunity has her entire family moving all those miles with her! And then there’s the matter of her unexpected, amazing boyfriend, Jackson, who is staying behind on the exact opposite coast.
And if that isn’t enough to deal with, mere days after moving cross-country, Reb’s dad drops shocking, life-changing news. With her mother and brother overwhelmed and confused, Reb is left alone to pick up the pieces of her former life. But how can she do that when everything can change in an instant? How can she trust her “perfect” boyfriend when her own dad let her down? Reb started the year knowing exactly what her future would hold, but now that her world has turned upside down, will she discover what she really wants?
Justina Chen, the acclaimed author of North of Beautiful, has created a moving and powerful novel about the struggles that arise from betrayal, the uncertainty of life after high school, and the joy that ultimately comes from discovering what’s truly in your heart.
This month we read Justina Chen Headley’s “Return to Me,” and it’s one of the best-reviewed books we’ve had the pleasure of reading together here at Teen Lit Rocks. It sounds like a simple story — a high-school graduate’s life is torn upside down when her beloved father announces he wants a divorce — but there’s so much depth to this tale of discovering yourself and seeing with clear eyes who the people in your family really are deep down inside. There are so many layers to Reb’s life-changing summer before college begins. It’s a summer of grieving but also of reconnecting. The relationship between Reb and her mother spoke to all of us, whether we are mothers ourselves or not, and the romance was (as in Justina Chen’s other books) mature and empowering. If you enjoyed “North of Beautiful” or “Girl Overboard,” you simply MUST read “Return to Me.”
Thank you to Little, Brown for providing us all review copies of the novel.
Adult Reader Average: A
Cassie graded the book an A+
I adored this book. I adored this book because in many ways, I am Reb. My life has never been upended the way hers was and I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that entirely encouraged doing what you love, but I recognize so much of myself in this character. Reb is flawed. She is plagued with doubt. She suppresses who she is in order to fit into any given scenario. Her future is uncertain, and she doesn’t know what she wants. She is, in other words, a part of most of us, whether we have the strength to admit it or not.
But more than Reb, I just love how realistically complex this novel is. No one is who they first appear to be. No one is as simple as other might want them to be. There is nothing black and white about the people or the situations presented here in this novel, and that is a powerfully important message. This book communicates so effortlessly that people need to be imagine complexly, that being passionate about what you do with your life should be one of your most important goals, that platonic relationships are more important than romantic ones, that no painful situation comes without blessings.
I thought this book was incredibly well done, in storytelling, in characterization, in presenting important messages without being heavy-handed. There is a lot to take away from this book, and I wish someone had been able to hand it to me when I was in high school, because I really think it would have helped.
Keely graded the book an A
Rebecca Muir thinks she has her life all planned out – the path seems so clear and while there are parts that confound her heart, she’s willing to fulfill what she sees as her destiny.
That is until her life gets turned upside down when her Dad leaves their family in lurch. Far from her true home, Rebecca struggles to help her family adjust and along the way discovers that maybe her planned path isn’t so ideal after all.
Anyone that has ever had life throw up a road block of epic proportions will empathize with Rebecca as she picks her way back to herself and begins to find strength in her family that she didn’t realize was there. She finds wells of support and love where she didn’t expect them – including within herself. Her journey of self-realization is at times painful, bittersweet, heartfelt and utterly satisfying in both its realism and resolution.
Justina Chen’s writing has such a clear true voice – it will suck you in quickly and hold you there until you turn the last page. Her characters are wonderfully alive and it was hard to turn the last page and leave their lives behind.
Jessica graded the book an A
This could have been a simple story about a girl getting over the divorce of her parents and the wide 180 turn her life takes because of it. And, in a sentence, that’s what it is. But it’s also filled with these little gems of life-lessons that it nearly becomes fable (minus the talking spiders). Listening to your intuition is manifest as Rebecca’s inherited, psychic sixth sense, which she staunchly ignores until she is finally encouraged to pay attention.
Jackson, um, a little too good to be believed? I’m all for “fate” and the way life sometimes throws someone into your life at the right time – but, sheesh, he’s a god among high school juniors. Seriously. Start commissioning the bronze statue. Seventeen-year-old boys lack his insight. And his nickname for her, Rebel, is … just oooh.
On a personal note, my own parents got divorced the year I started college, so I ached along with her (and her Mom). And cheered that her support system was there to catch her – and teach her what she needed to understand before she could move on. Changed by unbroken.
Favorite quote: “Doesn’t it scare you?” I asked. “Not knowing people the way you thought you did.”
“As long as you know a person’s heart, you know them. Everything else is exploration. And trust me, you want someone who’ll take a lifetime to explore. Life is long, sweetheart. The last thing you want is to be bored.” Grandpa walked us over to another garden alcove, trimmed with smooth stones. He motioned to the path ahead. “Why don’t you take the lead?”
“I don’t know the way,” I told Grandpa, flustered.
“Just choose a direction.” He shrugged as though he had all the time in the world for me to figure things out. “We’re in no hurry.”
So I stepped in front of Grandpa, and together we wandered home. (pg. 176)
Diana graded the book an A
On the surface Justina Chen Headley’s novel, “Return to Me” is about a girl who has to suddenly deal with her parents divorce. It appears to be about the upheaval that a father’s choice to leave his wife for another, younger woman has on his family. It is that and so much more. Rebecca “Reb” Muir’s life is turned upside down when the father that she has always held up on a pedestal suddently drops off with a mighty crash. In the midst of dealing with the loss of trust in her father, she also discovers that her mother was so much more than she imagined.
What makes this book so gratifying is the fact that Reb also renews relationships with her grandparents, who become an important part of her family’s initial steps to healing. We see three generations of the women in Reb’s family come to terms with their relationships with each other. Reb also has to learn how to cope with so many changes including where Jackson, her boyfriend fits into her life now.
There is so much to enjoy in this book, from Reb’s relationships with her friends, her brother, and Jackson, to the wonderful descriptions of New York City. Chen Headley has given us an account of a young adult coming to terms with divorce and with her own life. It is well worth the read.
Amanda graded the book an A-
“Return to Me” was a captivating read, one that I was pleasantly surprised by. Reb, or Rebel, is a girl who just graduated from high school, ready to go off to college and start the rest of her life. Unexpectedly, she finds herself in the midst of soul-searching and life-altering questions that she desperately wants the answers to. Her parents’ divorce causes an identity crisis where she questions who she is, who she wants to be, and who she wants and needs in her life. Justina Chen’s depiction of divorce, the challenges that families face in its aftermath, as well as teenage soul searching, were captivating and heartfelt. I was thoroughly engaged and wanted to keep reading to find out if “Return to Me” had something to do with Reb’s father, her boyfriend, or herself. I look forward to reading more by Justina Chen.
Jenn graded the book an A-
Rebecca seemed to have an enviable life. She was about to start her first semester at Columbia University to study architecture. Her biggest problems were that her family was moving across the country to be nearer to her while she attended college and that she was leaving her boyfriend Jackson behind in Washington.
Then everything falls apart. Her father, whom she had always adored and respected, abandons them for another woman. He leaves them with practically no savings, thousands of miles away from their friends. Now nothing, not even the future sheíd planned so carefully, is certain.
You would think a story like this would be bleak, but it actually has a really positive message. Even though Rebecca had always been frustrated by her motherís controlling nature, as their family heals together, she gets to know her mom and understand her. I really liked that this book celebrated family, particularly the relationship between mothers and daughters. I also thought that Rebecca and Jacksonís relationship was wonderful. YA gets a lot of flak for unhealthy romances, but this one is far from it. They suffer some rocky patches, but they genuinely care for each other.
As the book progresses, Rebecca questions the choices and plans sheís made. Through this bad experience, she gets a second chance to reinvent her life, and she learns valuable lessons about forgiveness and following her heart. Once Rebecca begins to trust her inner voice, things begin to fall into place.
Melanie graded the book a C:
When Rebecca Muir’s family moves all the way across the country only to discover her dad is having an affair, “home” is not easily identifiable. Is home the new house that her dad picked out for the family that feels too big and echoey for the family? Or should they pack everything back up and return to their old house? A third option might even be moving to Hawaii to be with her grandfather?
In “Return to Me,” Rebecca must sort out exactly where the best place for her family will be. As she begins to figure out the place the feels like home, she also begins to understand the people who help her feel at home as well.
I hope that my kids will always feel like home is wherever we are. I am far less than a perfect parent, but I want my home to be a place where my kids feel loved and accepted no matter what struggles they may be having.