Return to Sender by Lauren Draper

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This novel has nothing to do with Elvis Presley’s song or the 2015 American psychological thriller film of the same name. Instead, it is a coming-of-age story about family, friendship, love, stereotyping and a strong connection to the past. There is a rebel, a dead letter office, a mystery from the past and a missing gem.

For younger readers who no longer have much to do with letters arriving by post, there is a description of what was once known as the Dead Letter Office but is now referred to as a Mail Redistribution Centre, where ‘unclaimed, undeliverable mail goes, usually because the intended recipient has kicked the metaphorical bucket’ (9).

Often this mail sits there in their cubbies waiting to be claimed. Sometimes someone will come in to retrieve old Christmas cards or their grandparent’s mail. In this story however, there is one lot of mail that has remained uncollected. Item 130: First name: August, Surname: Undeclared. For the main protagonist and the narrator of this story, it becomes a challenge to connect this mail with the appropriate family. Through curiosity she has discovered that there are three writers, a boy and two girls. Why hasn’t this mail ever been collected?

While there is a story to be revealed about the letters from the past, in some ways it parallels the story of the teenagers in the present. In both cases there are three friends who have discovered a very close bond and there is the blossoming of young love.

Brodie has become known to the local inhabitants and especially to the police as the McKellon Felon and the title has been earned; however Brodie’s life has not been an easy one. When her mother dies, she is sent to boarding school where she doesn’t fit in. Eventually she is sent back to live with her grandmother. Here she reconnects with two boys who were her constant companions as she was growing up.

Before she went away to school, a precious stone, The Adder Stone, goes missing from the Town Hall where it had been on display and of course, because of her reputation, Brodie is held responsible. This shatters the relationship with one of her close friends and makes her return to the town where she grew up more strained, so she is determined to discover what really happened to this stone. While doing this, she is also trying to solve the mystery surrounding the unclaimed letters found in the Post Office which her grandmother runs.

The author describes the strong bond between the young people highlighting the freedom and trust that often seems to be missing in today’s lifestyle. Regardless of the situation they find themselves in, the protagonists know that there is always someone there to support them through the ups and downs of adolescence.

Although the main characters are teenagers, the mystery of the unclaimed letters and the disappearance of the stone make this a story for any age group. Throughout the storyline, issues like stereotyping, parenting styles, family violence and status are presented causing the reader to think more deeply about not just the actions of the young people.

Lauren Draper is a Melbourne-based writer and marketing professional. Her debut novel, The Museum of Broken Things, was shortlisted in the 2020 Text Prize and went on to be named for The Readings Prize and Indie Book Awards and longlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

This is an interesting story which speaks to the emotions of the reader. Within the cast are those who might not fit the expected norm and this story highlights their love and compassion. For those who appear to take the higher ground in this tale, they are not the ones who shine.

Return To Sender


by Lauren Draper


ISBN: 978 176126 651 5

$26.99; 384pp


🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top