Customer Review

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Original and entertaining., September 19, 2011
This review is from: Where Things Come Back (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). One of my favorite lines in the entire story was on page 166 which reads "He had taken Benton's notes and not blown them out of proportion so much as he had strapped an atom bomb to every letter of every word." It's this kind of larger than life writing style that makes these characters come to life.

This book is different. It doesn't have a love triangle, it has a strong male friendship, it has two siblings and a family who patently care about each other but yet, there is dysfunction of sorts within all these relationships. How that plays out on the page keeps you reading. The fact that this book is very different, yet very normal (teen stuck in a small town, girl troubles, envy at the popular guy who has the girl he wants, etc) will resonate with teens. There is scorn, there is heartache, and there is family. On first looking at the book, it doesn't look as impressive as it appears to be, but there is definitely something special about this story. On the other hand, I think there are spots where this book suffers from lack of movement. The story gets bogged down in descriptions of actions, rather than dialogue and actual action so that, at least for me, led to me skimming several passages throughout this story (pages 184-187 in particular seem to suffer from this problem). The long paragraphs of text do not make for necessarily easy or even pleasant reading.

On the other hand, Cullen is really just a normal teen boy and I like that about him. Nothing flashy, no extraordinary talents, at least outright visible like athletics or something. He's just a guy who cares about his brother, has a crush on an unattainable girl, and is not impressed with the Lazarus woodpecker. Reading about the utterly normal has a power all of its own and I think John Corey Whaley showcases that very well.
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