Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley


I first became interested in this novel when it received the Printz Award, but it was always being pushed back on my "to read" list for one reason or another.  My interest piqued when I started reading more about John Corey Whaley, who just seems like a "neat guy."  One such article was an interview on the TLT blog:
"Q&A: Meet the 2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley".  I saw the chance to win an autographed copy, and despite my history of bad luck with contests, I ACTUALLY WON!  (THANK YOU AGAIN, TLT!)  Let me explain something about myself, first.  I am the farthest thing from a pack-rat.  When I buy an new pair of shoes, an older pair gets donated to Goodwill.  I also keep only certain books on my shelves permanently.  The rest get donated to the library in which I work or passed on to friends or students.  After reading Where Things Come Back, it will definitely hold a place of honor on my shelves, along with my other favorites. 

Cullen Witter is living in the small town of Lily, Arkansas.  In Lily, an unusual phenomenon seems to have taken place... an extinct woodpecker is believed to have been discovered.  Cullen, his brother Gabriel, and his best friend Lucas, appear to be the only skeptics, or at least the only 3 who do not seem to be affected by the bird.  However, as we read on, we come to realize that more things affect us than we realize.  Cullen and his family are faced with a mysterious tragedy, and he starts to see life, his town, and the people around him differently.  As the novel moves on, you realize how one event connects with another and, in essence, how people we never see or meet can greatly affect our lives.

My favorite thing about this novel are the characters.  There are some novels in literature that introduce you to characters who will resonate in you.  Classic works such as On the Road and To Kill a Mockingbird often do this, and Whaley manages to introduce us to three.  Cullen Witter is narrator of this novel, and unlike some male narrators in literature, Cullen truly does seem to be an average guy, someone in whom every reader can see a part of their selves... someone who really has heartache and anger and angst and fun and love.  Cullen's best friend, Lucas Cader, is that friend that everyone has--the one super-social one who everyone loves, but who only reveals their true self to a select few.  Gabriel Witter, Cullen's brother, is revealed mostly through the eyes of the characters around him.  Yet, just by the way you see he affects others, you grow to love him.  He was my favorite. 

I majored in Literature and I have read a good many of the classics, so I can get a little elitist when it comes to words, and I am always noticing words.  For example, I can't stand songs that have mediocre lyrics.  I do this a lot when I'm reading as well.  I can appreciate a book if it has an interesting story, but if the writing doesn't affect me, I can't truly love the book.  I truly loved Where Things Come Back. 

I keep a kind of journal... a collection of quotes.  As I'm reading a book or listening to a song, if something really "hits me," I will write it down to keep in my quote journal.  I did this for a passage from Where Things Come Back:
Life, he says, doesn't have to be so bad all the time.  We don't have to be anxious about everything.  We can just be.  We can get up, anticipate that the day will probably have a few good moments and a few bad ones, and then just deal with it.  Take it all in and deal as best we can. 

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