Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Until the woodpecker comes to Lily, Arkansas, Cullen Witter is preparing for another slow summer in his boring small town. A suspicious birdwatcher's alleged sighting of the thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker brings publicity and hope to the small town, and Cullen's hairdresser mother is busy giving young boys bright red mohawks, inspired by the town's obsession with the "Lazarus bird." Cullen highly doubts the birdwatcher's credibility and the existence of the bird, but he also has bigger things to think about. Ada Taylor, the girl of his dreams despite her tragic history of dead boyfriends, is actual starting to take notice of him. His troubled cousin has just died of an overdose, leaving his family fractured and fragile, and Cullen struggles to hold it all together. Weirdest and worst of all, Cullen's cultured and talented younger brother, Gabriel, disappears as suddenly and mysteriously as the woodpecker reappeared.


On the other side of the world from Arkansas, a young missionary named Benton Sage works desperately in Ethiopia to please his father and get a grasp on his faith. His disgraceful return to the United States sets off a chain of events that lead to the woodpecker, Cullen, Gabriel's disappearance, and the once-dull town of Lily.


At first, I was wondering how the stories of Cullen Witter and Benton Sage would intertwine in a logical way, but the climax was a beautiful weaving of the lives of two very different and complex characters. The ending left me with no questions, just a satisfied feeling. Though dark and suspenseful, the story had an overall whimsical feel to it, and the chapters from Cullen's perspective read exactly as if I were being told the story by an imaginative and sarcastic seventeen-year-old boy. This was a beautiful debut novel with a perfect balance of sadness and hope, and it painted a great portrait of how extraordinary things can happen in the most unlikely of places.

Reviewer Age:17
Reviewer City, State and Country: Tarpon Springs, Florida United States

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