Saturday, January 19, 2013

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances. (from GoodReads)

I have a major soft spot for titles that are sentences/fragments, which is why I picked up Where Things Come Back. It was also on NPR's list of recommended YA titles and won two awards (Printz and William C. Morris YA Debut Awards), so I thought it would be a good read.

Where Things Come Back is extremely literary and I can definitely see it being used in classrooms some time in the future. The author uses a lot of metaphors, parallels and religious symbolism, making it a perfect fit for literature classes. I like when books have all of those things, but I'm sure some of it went over my head. I enjoyed the parallel of the extinct bird returning (aptly named the "Lazarus Woodpecker") and Gabriel disappearing. Throughout the story, I hoped the reappearance of the bird would mean that Gabriel would come back too.

Cullen and Gabriel are brothers and when Gabriel disappears, Cullen's world practically falls apart. It was obvious how much Cullen loved his younger brother and it was so sweet to see that type of sibling relationship. Even though Gabriel wasn't in the story that much, I understood why Cullen missed him. The author did a great job of setting up their relationship even though it was pretty one-sided throughout Where Things Comes Back.

I was very invested in the story and was dying to know what happened to Gabriel. The book actually switches point-of-view to a few side characters and at first you have no idea what they're doing in the story. It's all tied up nicely at the end and makes perfect sense - you just have to be patient.

I was satisfied with the ending of Where Things Come Back and think it's a perfect pick for book clubs, classrooms, or people who just want a deep read. And I still can't get over that title! I definitely want to live in a world "where things come back."

Rating: 9 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from the library.

2011/Turtleback Books/256 pages.


Stephanie Ingrid Sarah Kristan said...

Oh, glad to know you enjoyed it. Like you, we've heard lots about the book from NPR and the Printz stuff, but we weren't sure really what it was about or if we'd be interested. Based on your review, it sounds like a pretty good read. Thanks!

Btw, have you seen The Real Fauxtographer's take on this book?
(Her whole YA series is really great.)

Elana K Arnold said...

I loved this book, too!