Monday, November 21, 2011

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley


Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Published: May 3, 2011 by Atheneum
Received: bought from Amazon
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. {taken from goodreads.com}

There are moments when you finish reading a book & think wow, this is really something else -- in the best possible way, of course.  There are also moments while reading a book that you re-evaluate everything else you've ever read before and think, how are future books going to live up to this?  I feel sorry for the next few books I pull off my shelves, because I know I've just experienced a rare find in Mr. Whaley's work, one that will be difficult to top.

I knew I had to write this review minutes after I finished the book because I wanted to capture my rawest emotions, completely fresh.  I feel as though this book deserves that sort of response.  This story isn't an easy one to evaluate, it takes you in so many different directions.  I found myself marking page after page at all the beautiful phrases.  Whaley has the ability to write with depth and soul, yet keeps the reader floating on edge just long enough to keep anticipating what will happen next.  The story may come across about "that damn bird", but it's a story that resonates much deeper than that.

The book is rich with a cast of characters that you feel as though you know by name.  The main focus is told from Cullen Witter's point of view, a seventeen year old boy living in the tiny town of Lily, Arkansas.  He lives at home with his mom and dad, and just a tad bit younger brother named Gabriel.  He spends his days with his best friend Lucas, who he considers one of the best people around.  Their lives are not complex, but Cullen knows he wants more than Friday nights at the local movie theater sharing popcorn between Lucas and Lucas's girlfriend Mena.

There's talk of a possible bird sighting that's been extinct for the past few decades.  This sends the small town of Lily up in to a frenzy and every one is gossiping about "that damn bird".  Meanwhile, clear across the globe there is another story being told about a young man named Benton.  He is attempting to follow the word of God through missionary work.  The two worlds are kept parallel, alternating between chapters, leaving the reader to wonder what might Cullen and Benton have in common. 

When Cullen's brother Gabriel goes missing, it's the beginning of a nightmare that Cullen can't seem to wake up from.  The story begins to evolve, especially in the moments with Cullen as he is left to pick up the pieces of never knowing if and when his brother might come home.  Cullen's character has a vivid imagination, and I found myself constantly wanting to be inside his mind, picking a part every person he knows, every situation he's placed in, and every word he's ever been told.  He keeps a journal to jot down book titles of stories he intends to write one day.  These book titles were one of my favorite aspects of the story.  In just a few words, Cullen had the ability to capture some of the most significant moments of his life.

As the chapters progress, the two stories of Cullen and Benton begin to bleed closer and closer together.  The last few pages of the book I found myself unable to stop reading.  I had to know what came next.  The ending packed a powerful punch, one that left me completely speechless.  I have never read a book where an author has taken two characters, given them two separate identities, and molded them together to create such a profound and beautiful story.  I'm not sure this review gives this book justice, or the praise that it deserves.  I hope it's encouraged my followers to grab a copy of John Corey Whaley's book and experience this story for yourself.  Where Things Come Back is an honest interpretation of what it means to find second chances, identify false hopes, and welcome moving forward.

Stay tuned for an interview with Mr. Whaley and a giveaway of Where Things Come Back!





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13 comments:

  1. Beautiful review! I'm adding this to my TBR. :)

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  2. I think you definitely did this book justice!! I liked Where Things Come Back but really wasn't huge on the missionary parts. I mean, I get the deeper meaning and all, but MORE CULLEN is all I will say.

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  3. Oh wow. This is DEFINITELY a book I'm going to have to be watching out for! It sounds AMAZING! Great review! DUDE. How have I not heard more about this book yet?!

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  4. You do such a great job reviewing from the heart, Ginger. Thank you! 

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  5. Molly (Surrounded By Words)February 1, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    Just bought it. I'm going to break my Jennifer Echols streak to read this one because I feel like I need to.

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  6. Yes! I'm so excited to find another person who loved this book as much as I did! It's genius even though I wish more people had heard about it. Whaley is an amazing writer. Looking forward for the interview!

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  7. Wow, this review is wonderful. It's got me excited to read this book!

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  8. I've been curious about this one, and you've definitely convinced me to give it a chance next time I come across it. Wonderful review! :)

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  9. I haven't seen a lot of reviews for this one - but what I have seen has all been positive. But your review has me itching to read it! Very well written and persuasive :)

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  10. I thought this book was beautiful, lovely review G...looking forward to reading the interview ;)

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  11. oh wow, this review is terribly beautiful!! we have extraordinary sinimlar tastes in books, so as soon as you were like OMG CARLA READ THIS!! I just knew that I had to buy a copy like RIGHT THIS SECOND.  And y'know, I started it this morning and i'm only chapter two and i can tell this is going to be something really special.  so thank you.  if this review doesn't convince people to buy this book then i don't know what will.  completly charming, yay! you rock my face.

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  12. Excellent review of a truly beautiful book!

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