Book Review – Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

If you have hope, you have everything.

 Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 228

From Goodreads:

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax. 

Page border by Casey Carlisle

Admittedly, I picked up this book solely due to buzz on some blogs and the awards it had received with little idea what it was about before turning the first page. It did take me a while to get into, but once I got hooked, I loved it. I guess because I’m not a huge fan of the mystery genre – I do like mystery, but not detective and sleuth novels. If it’s entwined in a larger plot I tend to enjoy it more – and that is what happened with ‘Where Things Come Back.’

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe symbolism in this book is massive – and if you read them right, there is a depth in meaning reflecting society, attitude and the mystical. But the narrative also feels lazy, indicative of the slow paced townsfolk, and I have to believe that was on purpose to bring an ambience around this tale.

There is a certain dry, dark undertone, just as there is a resilience, maturity and sense of fate. All of which make this novel literature, as opposed to a mass market paperback. I enjoyed the elements of sophistication, but appreciated that on the surface it’s a story about a boy hoping to find his kidnapped brother, frustrated at the towns distracted mentality around the celebrity of the Lazarus Woodpecker.

I did enjoy the ending – and it kept me guessing right up until the end. With a contemporary you can never be completely confident of the outcome. But the conclusion wraps everything up succinctly in a way that echoes in your head for a while afterward.

It could be a little busy for a younger audience, not necessarily understanding the nuances of the story. Plus that dryness I mentioned, slowed the pace somewhat, where on occasion I wanted to skip forward. I was also frustrated in some parts – masterfully elicited by the narrative – which diminished my enjoyment level because I like to escape with uplifting stories through my reading.

This is a great book, something I would recommend to read. There is boatloads of meaning hidden beneath its words, a quaint story, but not the most enjoyable read. But I’m glad to have added it to my collection. I can see why it has won the awards it has.

Overall feeling: Unexpected brain expansion in progress….

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Where Things Come Back Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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