This book had a lot to live up to when I began reading it earlier this week. The 2011 winner of not only the William C. Morris YA Debut Award but also the the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley promised to be an impressive book with exemplary writing. Whaley's writing did impress, and the book was thoughtful, engaging, and attention-getting. While the style and plot (and unfortunate hardback cover art: see left) may not immediately grab all teen readers, those who take the plunge will be happy they did so.
Where Things Come Back tells the story of Cullen Witter in the summer before his senior year in small-town Arkansas. The book opens with the death of his cousin by overdose, and the falling apart of his mother's twin sister. Shortly thereafter, Cullen's brother Gabriel disappears, just around the time that a thought-to-be-extinct Woodpecker is supposedly spotted in their town. The book revolves around the family and town's response to the missing teen, as well as the long-lost woodpecker. Every other chapter or so slowly weaves in the story of a teen missionary who loses faith while in Africa.
While not a hit-you-in-the-face mystery, the question of what happened to Gabriel keeps enough suspense in the book to make it a page turner. Along with the honesty of the writing about small-town life, grief, and loss, and a surprising amount of humor, this makes Where Things Come Back a hit.
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