Tuesday, February 21, 2012

REVIEW: Where Things Come Back

Whaley, J.C.  (2011).  Where Things Come Back.  New York:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

228 pages.

Appetizer:  My first thought when first hearing of this book:  "Why isn't it called Where Things Return?  Why?!"  Why use two words when you could use one?

My first thought after hearing that this book won both the 2012 Morris Award for debut authors and the Printz Award for young adult literature:  "I must read this NOW.  Wordy titles work!"

My first thought after learning that the author, John Corey Whaley, is a Louisiana teacher:  "Yay!  I can't wait to show my students."

My first thought after reading the book:  "Meh.  Alas, alack, oh dear.  I wanted to enjoy it more."

Where Things Come Back is the story of seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter, whose cousin recently died and who has a crush on the tragic Ada Taylor (her previous boyfriends have a tendency to die....).  Cullen's brother has gone missing.  There's no evidence or reason for Gabriel's disappearance and the grief is hurting every member of Cullen's family.  On top of that, Cullen is stuck in Lily, Arkansas just like all of his other friends, and knows he will never leave until he knows what has happened to his brother.  As Cullen searches for a way to bring Gabriel back, the town of Lily searches for the elusive Lazarus Woodpecker which has been seen for the first time in sixty years.

Every-other-chapter is devoted to sharing the story of Benton Sage, a missionary who works in Ethiopia and then his roommate after Benton returned to the U.S. to attend college.  These seemingly unrelated stories eventually come together in striking ways.  (Although, these chapters never really won me over.  I found the narration to be too telling.)

Throughout the novel, there are paragraphs which begin "When one..." to describe the way Cullen reacts to things.  At first I found this subject change from the first person to be very off-putting, but I have to admit, it grew on me.  I also liked the way that Cullen invented book title names throughout the narrative.  It reminded me a lot of the novel King Dork and the attention its protagonist paid to creating band names and album covers.

Nonetheless, Where Things Come Back never really captured my imagination or interest.  I never desired to pick it up and read it.  However, when I did bring myself to read the book, it was the type of narrative where it was easy to just keep reading.  (To get through as opposed to enjoy)  I can appreciate and respect what Whaley has written.  He pushes away from the way many YA narratives are told.  But I never really connected with Cullen, his friends or the story.

Dinner Conversation:

"I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body.  It wasn't my cousin Olso's.  It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties.  She didn't have any visible bullet holes or scratches, cuts, or bruises, so I assumed that she had just died of some disease or something; her body barely hidden by the thin white sheet as it awaited its placement in the lockers.  The second dead body I ever saw was my cousin Oslo's.  I recognized his dirty brown shoes immediately as the woman wearing the bright white coat grasped the metallic handle and yanked hard to slide the body out from the silvery wall."  (p. 1)

"Being seventeen and bored in a small town, I like to pretend sometimes that I'm a pessimist.  This is the way it is and nothing can sway me from that.  Life sucks most of the time.  Everything is bullshit.  High school sucks.  You go to school, work for fifty years, then you die.  Only I can't seem to keep that up for too long before my natural urge to idealize goes into effect.  I can't seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good."  (p. 5)

"You see, Ada Taylor had a grim history.  As a sophomore in high school, when I was just a freshman, Ada was dating this ass-hat by the name of Conner Bolton.  Conner was a senior and made it his personal mission to make every freshman in the school terrified to be caught walking alone or near the bathrooms, lockers, or trash cans.  But alas, he died before Christmas break in a car accident.  Ada was the only other passenger.  She walked away without a scratch.  Then, the next year, Ada was dating this okay guy who I used to play G.I. Joes with on the floor of my mom's hair salon.  His name was Aaron Lancaster.  He didn't even make it to Thanksgiving before he up and drowned int he White River during a thunderstorm.  His dad found his empty fishing boat.  A search party found his body four days later.  I heard it looked like he had been microwaved.
After that, it almost seemed like a ridiculous thing to date Ada Taylor, or even go near her.  But that didn't matter much to the young men of Lily, even me.  The unspoken philosophy of all those in love with Ada was something like this:  If I have to die to get that, then death it is."  (pp. 6-7)

"When Benton Sage found out that he would be going on a mission for his church that year, he was overwhelmed with excitement and panic.  His stomach felt a sort of queasy rumble as he stood with his sisters and Reverend Hughes, and watched as the entire church circled around them, clasped hands, and began to pray.  Ethiopia, he thought, would be the first place he could truly exert his faith.  It was his fear of travel, of leaving his comfortable life in Atlanta, of floating mysteriously thirty thousand feet in the air, that made eighteen-year-old Benton feel as if he would collapse onto the church's soft, green carpet as he heard the choir begin to chant amens and hallelujahs behind him."  (p. 16)

"'Did you hear about that bird?' Lucas asked me, still staring toward the house.
Lucas was one of the smartest and strangest people I knew, and so I wasn't very surprised by his choice of topic.
"What bird?" I asked.
"There's this woodpecker that's been extinct for, like, sixty hears.  Only, this guy from Oregon or something was down here and he thinks he saw one."
"In Lily?"
"Right outside of town.  I think he was canoeing down the river and saw it fly by or something.
"Weird."  (pp. 29-30)

"It was one of those moments when you're waiting on someone to say something important or funny or just do anything to break you away from the sad thoughts that overwhelm your mind.  Thoughts like never having enough money to move away or not getting into college.  Thoughts like having to come back to take care of a sick parent and getting stuck here all over again.  That's what happened in Lily.  People dreamed.  People left.  And they all came back.  It was like Arkansas's version of a black hole; nothing could escape it." (p. 35)

"It was three hours later and after calling everyone we knew and driving around town twice that we decided to call the police.  It was a Thursday when my brother, the Left Hand of God, disappeared.  It was on this same Thursday that John Barling appeared on national television to talk about the Lazarus woodpecker and how it had come back from the dead." (p. 55)

"Here's the problem with a fifteen-year-old boy going missing:  No one thinks he has been taken.  Especially Gabriel, who looked to be my age.  Everyone in town, though they didn't say it, was thinking the same thing:  Gabriel Witter has finally run away from his family.  That, or he went hiking through the woods and either got lost or got eaten by a bear.  Here's what I knew:  My brother was taken from me.  He did not run away, because he wouldn't.  He couldn't.  He would never.  And he'd never gotten lost in his life."  (pp. 58-59)

Tasty Rating:  !!

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