Rating: 3/5 stars.
“It was one of those moments when you’re waiting on someone to say something important or funny or just do anything to break you away from the sad thoughts that overwhelm your mind. Thoughts like never having enough money to move away or not getting into college. Thoughts like having to come back to take care of a sick parent and getting stuck here all over again. That’s what happened in Lily. People dreamed. People left. And they all came back.”
Winner of the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature and the William C. Morris Debut Award, Where Things Come Back didn’t blow me away. It contains two stories that start out separately but intertwine in the end. One features Cullen Witter, a seventeen-year-old who likes thinking more than doing and isn’t sure what to do when his younger brother disappears. The second revolves around Benton Sage, a religious prodigy who doubts the impact of his mission trip in Africa. Throw in a larger-than-average woodpecker, imaginary zombies, and an awkward high school romance, and you have the plot of John Corey Whaley’s debut contemporary novel.
Three words to describe this book: quiet, understated, atmospheric. Whaley slowly but surely established the small, southern feeling of a town in the middle of nowhere – the setting of this story was one of its strongest aspects. I also appreciated how Cullen’s detachment from his surroundings did not destroy the themes of the novel; it made me think about my own life, about how I don’t know for sure where I’m going yet and how I’m not sure what I want to study in college (besides English, of course.)
However, I lacked a larger emotional connection to the characters and the plot of Where Things Come Back. The last thirty pages or so were splendidly written and superb in their execution but the rest of the book bored me. While Whaley integrated some interesting philosophical points throughout the text, they weren’t enough to make me truly invested.
I recommend this to fans of a more modern Catcher in the Rye or a subtly strong book about the disappearance of a younger brother in a southern town. I’m curious to see what Whaley will write next.