May 12, 2015

Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

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. 

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Lily is a small town in Arkansas that's only famous because of the Lazarus Woodpecker. This presumably extinct woodpecker has been seen by a birdwatcher, who's been drawn to the town because of this bird. Cullen is a normal seventeen year old boy who thinks about girls a lot. He's also very fond of his younger brother Gabriel. He thinks he's special and admires him because of his taste in music and his way of life.

In Africa a young missionary is being sent back home, because he's lost his faith. He needs to find a new meaning of life. That also means he has to make a new life for himself and he ends up with a woman who will change him forever. 

Gabriel disappears and nobody has any idea where he went or what happened to him. A lot of unfortunately coincidences have lead to the disappearance of Cullen's brother. Where is he and has someone taken him? Does the birdwatcher have anything to do with it or is someone else behind it? 

Where Things Come Back is a beautiful story about life in a small town. The woodpecker craziness seems absurd. That also goes for everything else that is happening in the summer Gabriel disappears. John Corey Whaley has skilfully written two stories that don't seem to have anything in common at first. There is a common factor, which is quite surprising. I loved the plot and the way the story developed. This book is really special and the story is both really good and original, a great combination that has been perfectly executed by the author. 

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