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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.
"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.
I only got a few chapters into it before getting bored & having to put it down. The storyline drags.Published 9 days ago by Lauren Brackett
It's hard to get a teenager to read just for fun, but my 13 yr old granddaughter enjoyed the bookPublished 12 days ago by Alma Honczaruk
Overall: 4 to 4.5 Stars
This was one of those books that started completely weird and confusing, with me at about the 50% point telling my husband, "I'm not sure... Read more
The beginning was great! Fast forward and the book gets a little bit boring. The story line ,in my opinion, got lost and in the end it all came to a nice conclusion but it wasn't... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Brian Zacarias
Although confusing at times, this one kept me captivated and connected with the main character and his family. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
I read John Corey Whaley's second novel, Noggin, a few months ago and made a special note to seek out his first book. I'm glad I did. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Tim Field
Wonderful read, couldn't wait for the end to see how it all ties together!Published 5 months ago by Amy
This is such a good book, I had to get it for my English class and I am so glad I did. I devoured it in 2 sittings.Published 6 months ago by Londyn Ryan