Where Things Come Back John Corey Whaley
This is a book that lives up to the hype. I read it after it won the Morris, after it won the Printz. I read it after my librarian friends gushed all over it. I went in with high expectations, and it blew me away.
The town of Lily, Arkansas, is taken by storm with the possible sighting of the Lazarus Woodpecker, a bird long thought to be extinct. Cullen likes to mock it. His brother, Gabriel, is a bit more zen about it. Then, Gabriel disappears without a trace. Cullen tries to hold it together. His best friend, Lucas, is there for him every step of the way. Girls get involved and the town is still obsessed with that stupid woodpecker.
In another story, Benton Sage goes to Ethiopia on his mission trip. Mission work is more about helping and less about preaching, which Benton can't handle. He comes home obsessed with the Book of Enoch, a lost gospel. His obsession with the book spreads as he tries to come to grips with his failure in Africa.
The stories alternate between chapters. You know they have to collide, but you'd never entirely sure how. The Benton Sage storyline, in particular, kept me guessing and wondering where it was going to go. The Cullen Witter storyline is a bit more straightforward, especially for frequent readers of YA.
I loved Cullen's voice. I loved the portrayal of his relationship with his brother and his best friend. Cullen manages to walk that line of being sarcastic teenage boy without being annoying. (I would have been so in love with him in high school.) I also really loved the sense of place. Lily is a main character in Cullen's storyline. Whaley is from a small town in the south and it shows, because he paints it so well-- the geography, the people, and the excitement when there's finally something to get excited about it. It also gets point for being a small town that's filled with normal people, not quirky characters.
But, I also really liked the Benton Sage storyline (which not a lot of people talk about--I was actually rather surprised when this other storyline started up because I didn't remember hearing anything about it.) It's a different voice and a different feel. The obsession with the Book of Enoch, and the failure of the mission trip bring in questions of belief and faith that tie back to the themes of the other storyline, even before the two plots meet. You know I love a good book that explores faith and religion without being faith-based/inspirational fiction. The questions of faith are hard and messy and felt different than most that I've seen in fiction, especially YA fiction, but I can't explain why.
It's a book that might take a bit of a hand-sell, even though it shouldn't. On the other hand, I think if you just read the first page aloud, it'll get teens sucked in:
I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn't my cousin Oslo's.
Also, did you see TATAL's coverage last week of this book?
I got to meet and talk to Whaley at ALA this year. He is super nice and gracious and has a kick ass tatto of the Lazarus woodpecker on his arm. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Book Provided by... my local library
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