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Where Things Come Back Hardcover – May 3, 2011


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2012 Printz Award Winner
Where Things Come Back is the winner of the American Library Association's 2012 Michael L. Printz award for excellence in young adult literature! Check out this complete list of all previous winners from 2000 through 2012.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442413336
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442413337
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (128 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.


John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back Playlist

John Corey Whaley Where Things Come Back is based on the true story of the Lazarus Woodpecker: The supposed reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker is a true story that inspired expression in a variety of media. Author John Corey Whaley was inspired to write the book after he heard Sufjan Steven’s "The Lord God Bird" on NPR. Here he provides a custom playlist--one he listened to while writing the book--and some background on each song choice, including the song that inspired the book. Listen to his playlist.


"We Won't Need Legs to Stand" by Sufjan Stevens

Aside from the obvious allusions to angels and the afterlife, this song has an eerie quality to it that speaks perfectly to the early parts of the story.


"The Lord God Bird" by Sufjan Stevens
This is the song that started it all…written about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas with the combination of a banjo and melodic singing that one may very well hear in a town like Lily.

"Staring At the Sun" by TV On the Radio
There is a particular desperation in this, one of my favorite songs, that seems to fit the mother character perfectly. The story wouldn’t be the same without one moment when this song is quoted.

"Hope There's Someone" by Antony And The Johnsons
The lyrics in this song speak clearly for themselves-the hope that there is something else after this life and that second chances do exist… that maybe things do come back.

"Postcards From Italy" by Beirut
This song has a sort of whimsical playfulness that I think represents the more fantastical elements of Cullen Witter’s story, especially in those moments where he seems to be completely in a world of his own.

"Trying My Best to Love You" by Jenny Lewis
I think this song is the perfect theme to Cullen’s adventures in teenage love, something that doesn’t come so easy to him.

"The Leaving Song" by Chris Garneau
I can’t ever listen to this song without thinking about Cullen Witter searching for his missing little brother. The line "You are all I know" sums it up beautifully.

"All the Right Reasons" by The Jayhawks
Another whimsical, yet powerful theme to Cullen’s search for meaning in his own existence and the hope of a better life.

"Welcome Home, Son" by Radical Face
Though the characters are conflicted with the "home" they’ve been born into, this song fits well into the overall theme of coming to terms with that struggle.

"Adventures In Solitude" by The New Pornographers
With the possible return of an extinct woodpecker in his town and the disappearance of a his teenage brother, this song and its title perfectly match up with Cullen Witter’s own adventures in solitude throughout the story.

"I See a Darkness" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy
I love most of Bonnie "Prince" Billy’s eerie, melodic songs, but this one in particular became the unofficial theme song for Gabriel, whose innocence and wise-beyond-his-years persona are threatened when he vanishes out of the lives of his loving family and friends.

"Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
I think this fun yet sincere song says so much not just about the story’s setting, but also the recurring struggle of all of the characters to find a place they belong and reconcile their inabilities to find the things and people without which they never can feel at home.

"Flume" by Bon Iver
When I first heard this song, a son’s ode to his mother and the love they share, I instantly thought of Cullen and Gabriel’s mother and aunt, two women who must struggle with the possibility of a life without their sons.




Review

“In this darkly humorous debut, Whaley weaves two stories into a taut and well-constructed thriller…Vulnerability balances Cullen's arch sarcasm, and the maelstrom of media attention lavished on the woodpecker offers an element of the absurd, especially when juxtaposed against the mystery of Gabriel's disappearance. The portentous tone and flat affect of Whaley's writing is well-suited to the story's religious themes and symbolism… as Whaley gradually brings the story's many threads together in a disturbing, heartbreaking finale that retains a touch of hope.”

--Publishers Weekly, April 11, 2011, *STAR

“In a build-up that explores the process of grief, second chances and even the meaning of life, Cullen’s and Cabot’s worlds slowly intersect and solve the mystery of Gabriel’s disappearance in this multilayered debut for sophisticated readers. Unexpected, thought-provoking storytelling.”

--Kirkus, April 15, 2011

“The characters’ reactions are palpable as their grief deepens and yet they continue to hope for Gabriel’s return. Cullen is an eloquent, thoughtful narrator…the ending is worth the wait.”

--School Library Journal, July 2011

"The author has managed to capture his characters’ feelings of loss and despair with both compassion and empathy. The plot is extremely well thought out and encompasses the tangle of teenage relationships, friendships, and life experiences using humor and thoughtful language...authentic, small-town teenagers; and the main protagonist, Cullen, is well-developed and convincing. An unexpected ending brings about a moving close to the novel."

--VOYA, June 2011

“What will hold readers most is the moving story of Cullen’s beloved younger brother, who suddenly goes missing, leading to mystery, heartbreak, and an astonishing resolution on the very last page…An intriguing, memorable offering teens will want to discuss.”

--Booklist, May 2011

“[A] smart, darkly funny, and multilayered debut…. Whaley weaves numerous story lines and themes together with the confidence of a seasoned writer, resulting in a thought-provoking story about media, faith, and family.”

--Publishers Weekly, November 7, 2011, a "Best Books of 2011" selection

Related Media

Customer Reviews

Great job, John Corey Whaley.
Glenda Burrow
Plan on reading the last quarter of the book in one sitting, because there is no way you will be able to put this book down.
Steven J. Kuzma
I would recommend this book to teenagers and adults.
Beth Walz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Cory E. Reed on May 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A few years ago, I lamented to a coworker that great Southern storytelling - the kind that held you to the feet of your grandfather, hanging on his every melodious word as he took you to a place that was distant yet familiar; heart-wrenching but hilarious - was dead. It was a lost art of a past generation.

I was wrong.

John Corey Whaley proved me wrong and I'm grateful.

Where Things Come Back immerses you into the quirky world of the small Southern town. Like many small towns, it's a place where everyone knows everyone else....on the surface...but rarely get to know the underlying fears, motivations and anxieties of the people they interact with everyday. It's a place where the unique lifelong bond of brothers is made stronger by sharing not only blood, but an intellectual curiosity that is outside the norm. It's a place where close friends are often the only salvation from chronic, terminal boredom.

I had such a great time reading this book that I bought an extra copy - one to keep for myself and one to pass along and share with family and friends.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Books31 on April 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover
You know you're reading a fantastic book when you read the last paragraph and immediately turn back to the beginning to start it over again.

Where Things Come Back is just such a book. Personally I don't know just what it was that made this as irresistible read as it was. I don't know if I should praise the realistically flawed yet endearing characters. The fascinating mystery/introspective nature of the story. Or just the general captivating nature of the writing itself.

What I can say is that Where Things Come Back is a must read book for everyone, both teens and adults. And that if you had to only read one book this month (I say month because there are some other fantastic books that came out this year and I'd hate to limit you), then it should be Where Things Come Back.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Taylor Smith on May 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Growing up in a small town, I identified immediately with the characters of Where Things Come Back. I think the author did a wonderful job painting the dullness of small town life. There were points where I thought Whaley was literally writing my life story, but I think that's what drew me in the most. I think one of the characteristics of a great book is that it not only tells the story of the book's characters, but also tells you your own story. It forces you view the events of your life, the defining moments and the mundane ones, through a different lens. By touching on the aspects of life we can all empathize with: the bond of brothers, family tragedy, first love, faith, and redemption, Where Things Come Back is one of those books where each reading reveals something new, both about the storyline and ourselves.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is the kind of book that both mystifies and grows on you. It's an odd little story that I'm not completely comfortable with, but yet there were moments I was completely captivated and caught up in the ridiculous yet mundane goings-on of Lily, Arkansas.

Cullen is just like most seventeen-year old boys in small towns. He's bored out of his mind, he hopes he'll have a more exciting future ahead of him, but while he's stuck there, he's going to make the best of it. Then, celebrity lands in Lily in the form of the long-thought extinct Lazarus woodpecker. Cullen is indifferent to the supposed woodpecker but that indifference turns to anger when his younger brother, Gabriel, goes missing and his name does not make the headlines. Gabriel Witter's disappearance is buried under the infatuation with the woodpecker.

I couldn't help thinking what sly insight the author has into our society as a whole. When something garners its fifteen minutes of fame, in this case, the woodpecker, other more important matters go unnoticed. A fifteen-year old boy goes missing for over eight weeks and there is definitely not the search and rescue parties one often sees in cases like this. The local law enforcement was not helpful and Cullen continues to grow disenchanted with his hometown.

Intertwined with Cullen's story is that of a boy named Benton and his college roommate, Cabot. I honestly found their story more interesting through the first half of the book, until Cabot went religious crazy which always rubs me the wrong way. However, how the author makes these storylines work together is inventive and brilliant. And, the author does a great job, writing wise, of making Cabot seem crazy (at least I thought so).
Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lauren on January 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
Although there are parts of this book that I genuinely like, specifically the way small town life is portrayed and the way the two story lines overlap, I thought the book as a whole fell flat. I didn't get a sense of who any of the characters were, nor did I understand their motivations. I didn't see any character development or growth throughout the novel. It read more as a series of events than as an introspective novel meditating on grief and life, as the summary suggests. The author hinted at the narrator's sense of loss with regards to his brother's disappearance, and perhaps it was intentional, but I felt like any time there was a chance to explore real emotion, the narrator went off in a different direction. There were parts where the author could have explored familial love and the loss of a sibling, instead that pain was mentioned only briefly. Perhaps this is a misreading on my part; perhaps the narrator was meant to live on the surface. I just never got the sense that the character felt any of his emotions. He always seemed surprised to find himself crying and quickly repressed any negative feelings. Given the lack of emotion throughout the story, the ending left me without feeling any catharsis or relief.

However, the lack of dynamic female characters is not a misreading on my part. None of the female characters have any depth whatsoever. The narrator is most definitely a Nice Guy: the Nice Guy who claims to be nice in order to get girls to like him but never proves that he actually is nice, nor does he understand that his niceness is not enough to replace a personality. The female characters, in turn, are little more than props to him. They rarely have dialogue and are always seen in relation to another male character.

The book felt like a young, male author's debut novel wherein the meaning of life is explored.
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More About the Author

John Corey Whaley is an American Young Adult author from Louisiana.

His first novel, WHERE THINGS COME BACK is the winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the 2012 William C. Morris Debut Fiction Award

Whaley was named a Spring 2011 Flying Start Author by Publishers Weekly as well as a Top Ten New Voice for Teens by the ABC Children's Group at ALA and a Spring 2011 Okra Pick from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. WHERE THINGS COME BACK has also been nominated for the American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012. He was recently selected by the National Book Foundation as a Top 5 Under 35 author, making him the first YA author to be awarded the honor.

To learn more about John Corey Whaley and WHERE THINGS COME BACK, visit www.johncoreywhaley.com

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