John Corey Whaley
Pub. Date: May 3, 2011
Synopsis: 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.
Even though the synopsis didn't appeal to me that much, I found myself hooked on this book and stayed up very late reading. I am so glad I received a review copy because I would have missed out on a great book! I liked all the characters and had to know about what happened to Gabriel. He was such a unique character and it felt unreal when he went missing. Whaley did a fantastic job of showing the reader how Cullen's world fell apart. It wasn't just in the obvious change of his family dynamic, but also in how Cullen reacted to situations. Things he wouldn't have considered doing before, he now seemed to jump right into. I liked that numerous character in the book surprised me- some in great ways and some in terrible ways.
What really kept me reading "Where Things Come Back" was Whaley's writing style. His character development was great, but Whaley really knows how to tell a story. At first I wasn't in love with the multiple narratives, I just didn't see how on earth they could fit together. Of course now it seems so obvious, but I just didn't see what possible link there could be. This has a lot to do with Whaley's writing and giving the reader enough to be interested at the beginning, but not giving everything away upfront. The whole woodpecker part of the story is what made me kind of iffy about reading it, but honestly it added a lot of amusement. It seems completely out of place in a book dealing with grief, but Whaley pulls it off. I was also happy that there was a nice balance between the tragic and the comedic elements. It could have easily gone too far in either direction, but Whaley was able to keep the tone from becoming overly depressing and inappropriately hilarious.
I recommend this book to readers and add not to be turned off by the synopsis. It may not sound like your cup of tea, but it is definitely worth picking it up. I'm trying to think of a book to compares this to and the only thing I am coming up with is "Dust of 100 Doges". This is mainly due to the multiple narratives coming together to form a complete story. With that said, "Where Things Come Back" was a much more enjoyable book.
*I did receive a free copy of this book for review.
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