Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

The summer the extinct Lazarus woodpecker reappears in 17-year-old Cullen Witter's tiny, going-nowhere Arkansas town is the same summer his 15-year old brother Gabriel disappears without a trace.  It's also the same summer his longtime crush, the gorgeous Ada Taylor, finally notices him.

Spending the year in Africa as a missionary, 18-year-old Benton Sage hopes to change the world with his faith. Instead, he quickly finds himself in way over his head and disillusioned. He knows that distributing food, water, and medicine to the people of Ethiopa is important, but he's not sure if exchanging a few sentences about God with hungry people counts as saving them. Questioning his purpose in Africa and in life, Benton decides to look for answers elsewhere.

Cullen's life is full of interesting people.  Best friend and all around good guy Lucas Cader, who researches missing persons cases incessantly and sleeps on Cullen's floor at least four nights a week after Gabriel disappears.  Lucas's girlfriend Mena Prescott, who Lucas always found kind of annoying but, it turns out, is actually kind of awesome.  Ada Taylor, gorgeous, smart, and Lily's very own Black Widow - every guy she's ever dated has ended up dead in a terrible accident.  Ada Taylor's jerky football player boyfriend Russell Quitman, or, as Cullen likes to call him, the Quit Man, because that's what you can hear in Russell's wake - his victims yelling, "Quit, man!"  Alma Ember, 19-year-old divorcee and recently returned to Lily after a brief experiment with college (and marriage) in Atlanta, who Cullen is sort of dating after Lucas sets him up on a date with her.

But the most important person in the world to him is his little brother Gabriel.  And Gabriel is just... gone.  And all anyone in town seems to care about is that stupid woodpecker that no one's even actually caught a good look at anyway.  Cullen wants his brother back, and he'd appreciate it if people put in a little more effort toward making that happen.

How Cullen, Gabriel, and Benton come together in a series of startling coincidences and seemingly unrelated events is a story of uncommon beauty and unexpected humor.  Nominated for the 2012 Morris Award for newbie authors of teen books, Where Things Come Back is a quiet novel that is unpredictable in the very best of ways.  Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird with its rich Southern setting and vibrant characters, this one's for all the book lovers out there!

(waiting for my hold to come in on the only 2012 Morris nominee I haven't read, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe McCall!)