Google+ Reading Teen: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley: Review

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley: Review

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Author's Website:
Buy the Book: Amazon
Stand Alone
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.
Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.


So...when I first started to read this book, my thought was that I had been given another strange little story to read. And I was right. However, it also turned out to be a story that pulled me in and held my interest to the very last page. It is curious that the author can put together a small Arkansas town, a large woodpecker that hasn't been seen for 60 years, a high school girl whose boyfriends have a habit of dying, a missionary to Ethiopia, zombies and two teenage brothers, and form a story that is entertaining, suspenseful and touching. It took me a few pages, maybe chapters, to latch onto the story, but once I did I couldn't put it down. The story is told in an alternating style and I couldn't wait to find out where they intersected.

Cullen Witter, 17, and his brother, Gabriel, 15, live in Lily, Arkansas with their parents. Benton Sage is a young man from Atlanta, who, although he never meets the Witter family, has a profound impact on their lives. Their story shows how everyday casual interactions with people have unexpected effects and consequences. This is never more evident than when Gabriel disappears on a sunny, summer day. The way in which his family, friends and most especially his brother deals with his disappearance is the basis for the story.

Of course, there are instances of teen sex and language issues. However, I did enjoy the story and found it very satisfying. I only wish that the author had added another chapter or two because I wasn't ready to say good-bye to these characters.

  • Profanity: Very Heavy
  • Sexual Content: Heavy
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Other Notables: Religious questions
For more details, check out Where Things Come Back on


  1. I have seen this one around a few times. It sounds good, but don't know that it is my type of read. Thank you for the wonderful review.

    1. Yeah I'm the same as you. This one is not my type either. But, I might read it because my mom (this is her review) liked it a lot. She came to visit and talked about it a lot, which got me intrigued. It sounds really different, and I've been trying to branch out a little. :)

    2. This really was an unusual book...not only the story but the way it was told. There were characters introduced and I wasn't sure how they fit in at all. In spite of all that I did enjoy the characters and how it all came together.


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