Revenants deals with a topic that has always been popular for storytelling: war. Specifically, it deals with the Vietnam War. Most war stories focus on people directly involved in the conflict, namely soldiers. While soldiers do play an important part in this story, they are not the focus. Protagonist Betsy’s brother is KIA (killed in action) in Vietnam and grief begins to consume her. As her sorrow drags her down a sad path, what seems like a chance at self-redemption falls into her lap. Seeing a war story told from the eyes of a civilian, the family affected by soldiers lost, is rare. Even rarer is a story so artfully told as Revenants.
While Revenants seems to mainly fit as historical fiction, it is hard to peg it to a certain genre. It does not directly deal with history so in that regard it feels a bit like plain fiction. On the other hand, Betsy and her friends are trying to piece together clues like in a mystery story. Not truly fitting into any one genre is largely what makes this story work. You do not read Revenants and expect to see the standard tropes fitting any one specific genre. It feels very real.
For a large portion of the book, the story feels more like 3 out of 5 stars. But, without giving anything away, the ending bumps it up to 4 stars. This is not a story where everything is all right in the end. The characters suffer pain and grow because of it, yes, but not always positively. The experiences we have throughout life change us, shape us into who we are, and not always for the better. Betsy, and the other characters, go through this pain and do what they can to improve themselves. But the scars are still there and sometimes improving yourself has to take a back seat to just surviving.
We see veterans in the VA hospital in this book and these people are damaged. Anyone who knows even a little about veteran care knows that it is not great. Soldiers who come back from war can be as injured mentally as they were physically. And so too can the families and other loved ones of the soldiers who did not come back. Wars are not won in so much as they simply stop. People at the top make decisions, good ones and bad, and individuals at all levels get hurt. Revenants is very real and shows the terror of war for what it is. That is what made it so hard to put down.