Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I got back from a trip in the wee hours of this morning, so it is fitting to write about Where Things Come Back as my re-entry into this blog. I finished reading  John Corey Whaley's fine and nuanced novel in the airport in Chicago, just before boarding my flight home.

A tiny town in contemporary Arkansas makes national news when a naturalist spots a giant woodpecker that was thought to be extinct. The media attention overshadows another story in the same town, the disappearance of 15-year-old Gabriel Witter. Gabriel's older brother, Cullen, is devastated by the loss of his sibling and struggles to maintain hope that he will be found alive. The point of view shifts occasionally away from the immediacy of Cullen's first-person narration, circling around far-flung events that come to bear eventually on his own situation.

Described as an "existential thriller," Where Things Come Back is about the search for meaning and purpose in our lives. It is an amazing debut novel and winner of both the Printz and the William C. Morris awards earlier this year.

Readalikes: The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (for the cynical voice); Looking for Alaska by John Green (for the voice and the bittersweet experience of first love); King Dork by Frank Portman (for the cynical voice and because Cullen's collection of titles for his yet-to-be-written books reminded me of Tom's every-changing names for his mostly-imaginary band); What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson (for the sibling relationship and the hope) and Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet (for the layered storytelling and suspense). I also recommend a great nonfiction work about the elusive woodpecker: The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose.

NOTE added May 25, 2012 - At my YA book group last night, we talked about this book and one member had a different take on the ending than the rest of us. After discussion, the rest of us saw this book in a new light. It's a good example of why I love discussing books with other people. I also love ambiguous endings, so I like Where Things Come Back even better now.

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