3 August 2009

Book Review: Return to Sender by Zoe Barnes

Holly has always known she was adopted by her parents, Maureen and Harry Bennett when she was a baby. But when her beloved mother dies, Holly decides she wants to know more about her biological mother, even though she doesn't know where to start. Her sisters Jess and Grace are a bit opposed to the search, but eventually come around when she meets Private Investigator Phil Connell.

Together the pair set out to find Holly's mum so she can put together the pieces of her life, but is it just going to be Holly's roots that the pair discover? Can the Bennett family help not only Holly in her quest, but each other in their own times of woe?

Zoe Barnes is a well known Women's Fiction author and I have enjoyed several of her books. They are always realistic stories with likeable characters, and her latest offering certainly follows suit. '''Return to Sender''' focusses on the issue of adoption and how it affects not only the adopted child, but also that of their immediate family. Adoption isn't a subject I have come across much in the Women's Fiction genre so I hoped that Barnes would do it justice, but not in an unrealistic way that would spoil my enjoyment of the story.

As there is quite an emotional side to the whole plot, it was quite vital that the reader is able to connect with Holly and her plight for finding out about her mother. Barnes approaches this issue in a very good way, making there a good reason for searching for her and therefore the reader is on the side of Holly. She's a very likeable girl who doesn't seem bothered at all that she is adopted, which I think is great. In fact, the only resentment of it seems to come from her sisters, Jess and Grace, but this isn't too awful to read and you can see why they feel this way as the story progresses. Holly does come across as a real person, and her relationships with her sisters, her PI and others in the book are so well written that you can believe they are real which is all due to Barnes' writing talent.

Barnes has touched on the positives and negatives of an adopted person trying to find their natural parents in the book, and I think it was important that she did this. Of course, not all adoption searches end in a new happy family, and Barnes makes Holly's inner struggles with the decision to search for her mother clear, and with a weighted argument for both sides. Through the book, Barnes speaks with knowledge about the Isle of Man, and it was done very well as I felt I could visualise the small island in my head, even though I have never been there. Everything about it was written in detail, and sat well with the leisurely pace of the book.

Aside from adoption, the other main thread running through the book is relationships, and how they can survive change. There are lots of different relationships in this book; Holly and her boyfriend Murdo, Holly and Phil her PI, the 3 sisters, the sisters and their dad, Jess and her husband Kev, Grace and her husband Steve, and these are all well documented and followed as the book progresses. All the relationships go through change in different ways, and Barnes has a great way of getting into the soul of a character and putting into words how they feel. The book was written in the third person which surprised me as I thought this story would work well in the first person, but was equally as great in the third, leaving the reader as an entertained observer.

You can probably tell that I loved this book, and rightly so. It is a great story that kept me wanting to read more, but that didn't aim to come to a sickly sweet conclusion as you might expect. It was a very mature account of adoption and its effects on families, and every issue was well explored and detailed in the book. Holly and her family were realistic and nice characters, I cared about what happened to them and wanted Holly to find her mum, although I wasn't expecting the eventual outcome of the book. The ending is left totally open for a sequel with a big shock, and I really hope that Zoe Barnes choosing to follow up this brilliant novel with one just as fantastic. Highly recommended, and a very enjoyable book.

Rating: 5/5

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