Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Published by Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)May 2001
Reviewed from ARC provided by the publisher.
Summary from Goodreads
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.
It took me a while to get through this one. It's not a plot driven book like many YA are, though I have to say the last few chapters had me holding my breath. This story is more about the characters and I find I read books like this much more slowly.
Cullen is a genuine and likable character, his journal of Book Titles was hilarious. I adored his best friend Lucas and admired his loyalty to Cullen. The story seemed real. Like I was there beside him watching him go through the motions of daily life after his brothers disappearance. His guilt, his fear, his pain- all of it.
But it's not just Cullen's story. There's another story weaving in and out and you are given just subtle glimpses of the how stories intertwine as you read along. The author does an absolutely fantastic job of the connecting the lives of all the characters in the book and that had me thinking about the impact (or lack of impact) I might make in the lives of people I have known, or are yet to know. Where Things Come Back is a powerful read. One that will leave you appreciating what you have and thinking about what you can do for others. Highly recommended.