Monday, May 14, 2012

Small Town, Big Questions: Where Things Come Back

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Atheneum, 2011

When it comes to my reading choices, I hate to think that I have a type. I'm willing to mix it up and try new things - with books, the more, the merrier. But if you look through the reviews I've written here so far, there's a definite theme: I like what are typically described as "girl books" - strong female characters, series, and usually at least a dash of romance that's written by a woman.

I've been reading a lot of those lately. And I really didn't want to read another one, at least for a little while.

And so, I was thrilled when my library's copy of Where Things Come Back was on the shelf because I could finally give it a try. A stand-alone novel written by a man? Sounds good to me.

In his debut and Morris Award winning novel, John Corey Whaley weaves several story lines together. The most prominent is the story of Cullen Witter, a 17 year old who is in for the longest summer of his life in small town Lily, Arkansas for a variety of reasons. He's not the greatest with girls. He thinks his town is stupid for their obsession with the Lazarus Woodpecker (which an amateur birdwatcher claims to have spotted even though it's been extinct since the 1940s), going so far as to name everything in sight in its honor. But the biggest thing of all is that his 15 year old brother, the smart, caring, and insightful Gabriel, inexplicably goes missing.

I really had no idea what to expect from this novel, though the Printz medal it adornes on the cover did make me think this would probably be a book that asks BIG QUESTIONS like other Printz winner and honor books have in the past (John Green's Looking for Alaska, A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz), and I was right. Every character in this story is asking something and is in desperate need of an answer, whether they know it or not. And some are more obvious than others, which was something I enjoyed. Sometimes as a reader I saw things long before Cullen did, but I enjoyed watching him put the pieces together in a way that meant something different to him.

While the final portion of the book when the two main plot lines finally converge left me a bit dizzy (I had to go back and re-read a few pages to make sure I was understanding the timeline correctly), I have to say that I was overall very satisfied with this novel. It wasn't like anything I've read in a while, the narrator was a boy whose view I found relatable even though we don't have a whole lot in common (and isn't that so great when that happens?), and even though Big Questions are on every page, as a reader I never felt overwhelmed by them. I was curious to see how each character handled (or sometimes, mishandled) the card that life dealt them.

A good one-time read for me, and a must-read for anyone who has found that Printz books tend to be their style, Where Things Come Back will keep you coming back for more.

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