Monday, June 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

A while back, I was looking for books that YA boys might potentially be interested in and found a recommendation for Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. It’s supposed to be John Green-ish, so I bought the book. I wanted to read it myself and also to have something around as a summer read for my son. That was last year, but my son was heavily into the Game of Thrones books, so this one sat on the shelf. At the bookstore this weekend I noticed that the author has a new book out, Noggin, which looks kind of fun, but I thought I’d better read this one first. Plus, it’s aged on my shelf long enough to count for the TBR pile challenge.

Where Things Come Back is a very thoughtful story of seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter’s awful senior-year-of-high-school summer. Cullen lives in Lily, Arkansas, a small town that he describes as a black hole, sucking people back no matter how hard they try to escape. It’s a place where he, at least, fears he will die of boredom. Cullen works at being a pessimist and a cynic. There isn’t much in his life to make him otherwise–and yet, he’s a little embarrassed by a tendency to nevertheless hope for something better.

This summer, circumstances seem to conspire to beat out the last bit of optimism Cullen might have left. The summer begins with the death by overdose of his cousin. Cullen attempts to slog on with his routine. A stranger to the town reports the sighting of a known-to-be-extinct woodpecker: the Lazarus Woodpecker, which brings a circus type of celebrity to their small town. Cullen feels as though only he, his younger brother Gabriel, and his best friend Lucas see through the hoax. And then, his brother disappears. A massive search fails to locate him and Cullen’s world slowly dissolves.

A second plot revolves around a young missionary whose life is sidetracked after a failed mission to Africa. The one convert he makes, accidentally, is the college roommate he later meets and whose life he influences more than he could possibly envision.

As the jacket blurb states (reassures), these plots do intersect. Loose ends are tied.

This is a poignant story with likeable protagonists. The characters feel true to life, making it a more or less realistic story even if some of the situations are a bit over the top. If you’re looking for contemporary YA focused on male protagonists, a book that can be read in an afternoon, try Where Things Come Back.

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