Read This Book

Read This Book: The Return by Rachel Harrison

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

Last year, I got really into horror for the first time in my life. Gee, I wonder what major, terrifying global event put me in that state of mind? It’s been fun to explore a whole new genre and mood that I’ve always steered away from in the past and figure out what I like (horror is so varied!), and today’s pick is one I buddy-read with my partner. Content warning: Infidelity, some gore and violence, body horror, and eating disorders.

the return

The Return by Rachel Harrison

When Julie goes missing, everyone is devastated–her friends, family, and her brand-new husband. Everyone except her best friend, Elise. Elise isn’t sure how she knows this, but she’s convinced that Julie will return. Their other friends Molly and Mae think that Elise is in denial and needs therapy…until Julie does come back, exactly two years to the day she went missing, her memory completely gone.

Everyone is overjoyed, of course. When the friends decide to have a reunion at a boutique hotel, they think it’ll be the perfect chance to reconnect. The second Elise sees Julie, she’s shocked at how emaciated and unhealthy she looks, and alarmed by her weird appetites and mood swings. Things get worse when, as the weekend progresses, odd things start happening and tensions begin to rise. And once the thought takes hold in Elise, she can’t shake it: What if this isn’t really Julie?

This book creeped me out in dozens of small, unsettling ways, which is my favorite brand of horror. The little incongruences, small chills, and downright weird things are easy enough to brush off at first, but when they start stacking up it creates a terrifying situation pretty quickly. That’s definitely this scenario, and you can’t even blame Elise, Molly, and Mae for ignoring the warning signs because they want so badly to be thrilled that their friend returned. Interspersed throughout Elise’s narrative are flashbacks and memories to the years when Julie was gone, which adds great insight into her emotional state and her faith that Julie would return. This adds some nice emotional heft to the story, and readers can understand why her friends are so important to Elise when every other area of her life is a mess.

I also love a good creepy setting, and Harrison did an amazing job with the boutique hotel here. This is no Overlook Hotel or Bates Motel setting, but a trendy, chic spot that is so over-the-top in its design that it leaves the friends feeling isolated and unsettled. The design elements (including that screaming hot pink of the cover) add great tension to the weekend, and I found myself both wishing I could see this hotel in person and also adamant that I wouldn’t get within fifty miles of the place. The story is a slow build, but when shit gets real, it’s very scary and this book goes in a direction I didn’t expect! If you want a creepy book that explores the nuances of female friendship and you aren’t creeped out by a bit of body horror, I highly recommend this one!

Bonus: Rachel Harrison has a new book out this fall called Cackle and I can’t wait!

Happy reading!

Find me on Book Riot, the Insiders Read Harder podcast, All the Books, and Twitter. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, click here to subscribe.