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Winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Awards, this poignant and hilarious story of loss and redemption “explores the process of grief, second chances, and even the meaning of life” (Kirkus Reviews).
In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly...
Winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Awards, this poignant and hilarious story of loss and redemption “explores the process of grief, second chances, and even the meaning of life” (Kirkus Reviews).
In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.
Meanwhile, the crisis of faith spawned by a young missionary’s disillusion in Africa prompts a frantic search for meaning that has far-reaching consequences. As distant as the two stories initially seem, they are woven together through masterful plotting and merge in a surprising and harrowing climax.
This extraordinary tale from a rare literary voice finds wonder in the ordinary and illuminates the hope of second chances.
Winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz Award
Winner of the 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award
“In this darkly humorous debut, Whaley weaves two stories into a taut and well-constructed thriller…Vulnerability balances Cullen's arch sarcasm, and the maelstrom of media attention lavished on the woodpecker offers an element of the absurd, especially when juxtaposed against the mystery of Gabriel's disappearance. The portentous tone and flat affect of Whaley's writing is well-suited to the story's religious themes and symbolism… as Whaley gradually brings the story's many threads together in a disturbing, heartbreaking finale that retains a touch of hope.”
“In a build-up that explores the process of grief, second chances and even the meaning of life, Cullen’s and Cabot’s worlds slowly intersect and solve the mystery of Gabriel’s disappearance in this multilayered debut for sophisticated readers. Unexpected, thought-provoking storytelling.”
“The characters’ reactions are palpable as their grief deepens and yet they continue to hope for Gabriel’s return. Cullen is an eloquent, thoughtful narrator…the ending is worth the wait.”
"The author has managed to capture his characters’ feelings of loss and despair with both compassion and empathy. The plot is extremely well thought out and encompasses the tangle of teenage relationships, friendships, and life experiences using humor and thoughtful language...authentic, small-town teenagers; and the main protagonist, Cullen, is well-developed and convincing. An unexpected ending brings about a moving close to the novel."
“What will hold readers most is the moving story of Cullen’s beloved younger brother, who suddenly goes missing, leading to mystery, heartbreak, and an astonishing resolution on the very last page…An intriguing, memorable offering teens will want to discuss.”
“[A] smart, darkly funny, and multilayered debut…. Whaley weaves numerous story lines and themes together with the confidence of a seasoned writer, resulting in a thought-provoking story about media, faith, and family.”
If extinct woodpeckers can come back, can people, too?
In Lily, Ark., "the land that time forgot," cynical 17-year-old Cullen Witter, who likes to jot down titles for books he intends to write and pines for Ada Taylor (Lily's "black widow" because all of her boyfriends have died in accidents), narrates his unforgettable summer after senior year. Following the overdose death of his cousin, some "ass-hat" ornithologist claims that the Lazarus woodpecker (based on the Lord God Bird) has resurfaced after 60 years of extinction. It's hard for Cullen to enjoy the frenzy and hope it brings his small town when the woodpecker receives more media coverage than his younger brother, Gabriel, who has inexplicably disappeared. Alternating chapters with Cullen's account is a third-person narration about Benton Sage, an 18-year-old missionary to Ethiopia. He discovers the Book of Enoch, an ancient text not included in the traditional Bible, which describes Archangel Gabriel's role of ridding Earth of fallen angels. Benton's secret journal about Enoch falls into the possession of his college-freshman roommate, Cabot Searcy, whose curiosity turns into an obsession. In a build-up that explores the process of grief, second chances and even the meaning of life, Cullen's and Cabot's worlds slowly intersect and solve the mystery of Gabriel's disappearance in this multilayered debut for sophisticated readers.
Unexpected, thought-provoking storytelling. (Fiction. 14 & up)
All the Idealism in the World Couldn’t Shake This Feeling
I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body. It wasn’t my cousin Oslo’s. It was a woman who looked to have been around fifty or at least in her late forties. She didn’t have any visible bullet holes or scratches, cuts, or bruises, so I assumed that she had just died of some disease or something; her body barely hidden by the thin white sheet as it awaited its placement in the lockers. The second dead body I ever saw was my cousin Oslo’s. I recognized his dirty brown shoes immediately as the woman wearing the bright white coat grasped the metallic handle and yanked hard to slide the body out from the silvery wall.
“That’s him,” I said to her.
His eyes were closed. His lips purple. His arms had bruises and track marks. Nothing was hidden from view, as he had died in a sleeveless white T-shirt, one of the same he had worn nearly every day of his life. There was something white in the corners of his mouth, but I didn’t ask what it might be. I didn’t really say much after that. The woman waited there for me to cry or say “I’m done,” or something. But I didn’t do a thing. I just stared at him. And I’m not sure if I was thinking anything at that moment either. I wasn’t thinking about missing him or pitying him or even about how angry I was at him. I was just standing there like some ass-hat, mouth half-open and eyes glued to one spot. Eventually the white coat woman broke the silence.
“Do you need any more time?” she asked.
“No thanks. I’m good.”
My mother cried on the way home. My little brother, Gabriel, looked anxious, but he kept his headphones on and didn’t say much for the duration of our trip. I drove, but I didn’t want to because I thought it might rain. I hate driving in the rain. I’d wanted my dad to come along so I wouldn’t have to play man for the evening by driving the whole way and making sure everyone ate and all. I didn’t so much mind the body identifying. That part was bound to happen, one way or another. Oslo had been shooting shit into his arm since I could remember. He had also frequently been an inconvenience to me. Picking him up at truck stops or crack houses. Telling lies to his mom to cover up his dumb-ass behavior and save him an argument. Loaning him ten dollars here and there and hoping he would buy food with it, but knowing he probably wouldn’t. I did it all. We all did. Me. My dad. Even my aunt Julia gave him money so long as he showed up every other day or so, long enough to make her forget that she had failed to raise him right, long enough to make her love him again.
My dad couldn’t come because he got a call around five thirty that afternoon to haul some oil well equipment up to Harrison. That’s what he does. He hauls things that I don’t know anything about and never really care to. All I know is that somebody needs these large pieces of metal that have something to do with pumping oil as soon as possible when they call him. And so he goes at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes he sits at the house for days, reading the paper or novels about dead people (because, apparently, men in their forties are only interested in reading about the lives of presidents, explorers, or criminals). Sometimes we don’t see him for two weeks at a time, only hear the sound of him switching trailers in the backyard at three in the morning or leaving messages on the machine to remind Mom to fill a prescription or pay the mortgage.
When we got home from Little Rock, Dad was still gone and the kitchen light was the only thing we could see from the driveway. Gabriel had fallen asleep about twenty minutes before and Mom wasn’t far behind him. She leaned over and kissed the side of my head before she got out of the car and walked toward the house. Opening the back door, I kicked at the bottom of Gabriel’s shoe. He shot up quick and threw his arms up, as if someone were about to cut his throat. I looked at him the way you look at someone when you’re waiting for them to come to their senses—like you’re both frustrated with and feeling sorry for them—and then I helped him get his footing. I followed him into the house and Mom was already in his bedroom, already crying again as she talked to a half-asleep Aunt Julia. Soon there was one more crying voice, and Gabriel and I sat up on my bed and listened through the wall as Aunt Julia rambled on and on about wanting to die.
Gabriel was asleep within minutes and the voices in the room next door had nearly gone silent. If they were still talking, they had decided to whisper, perhaps taking into consideration the two teenagers in the next room who had to get up and go to school the next day. Before lying down, I grabbed my leather-bound journal off the nightstand and turned to the first blank page I could find. I jotted down Oslo After Death. This would be a great title for a book, I thought. That is what I do sometimes. I jot down titles for books that I one day intend to write. Oslo After Death was #71.
I closed the journal, turned off the lamp, and looked at my brother to make sure I hadn’t stirred him. He still slept, an impossibly sincere smile on his face. He had a habit of shutting out the world. Habits like this meant that he didn’t look up when he walked down the hallway at school. If you look up, then you can avoid being pushed or running into someone or being the convenient target for some ass-hat standing by the water fountain waiting intently for innocent-looking freshmen to walk by with their heads down. My problem was that I wasn’t big or tough enough to really protect or defend my little brother in any manner save for my sometimes creative use of sarcasm as distraction. Lucas Cader, though, was quite effective in staving off those common shitheads who liked to pick on Gabriel and his friends. I think, in a way, Lucas felt like it was part of his duty in the world to protect those kids. I’m glad, because it wasn’t mine. You see, Lucas had power. He walked down the hall and you noticed him. You noticed his six-two swimmer’s build and his messy brown hair that always looked like it was ready for a photo shoot. You noticed how he smiled at the pretty girls but always managed to say something nice or sweet to the not-so-pretty ones. Lucas was the only other guy besides Gabriel that I could stand to be around, simply for the fact that I just didn’t like guys all that much. I liked girls and women, but guys really put me off most of the time. Everything is a pissing contest with most guys. With Lucas, I could be my insecure shell of a man and not feel threatened. And Gabriel could walk down the hall and not risk having his backpack thrown into the trash can. And Elizabeth Strawn could feel good about herself for maybe the only time that day she had a huge zit on her cheek.
Being seventeen and bored in a small town, I like to pretend sometimes that I’m a pessimist. This is the way it is and nothing can sway me from that. Life sucks most of the time. Everything is bullshit. High school sucks. You go to school, work for fifty years, then you die. Only I can’t seem to keep that up for too long before my natural urge to idealize goes into effect. I can’t seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good. But as I lay there in my bed that night with my brother asleep beside me, I couldn’t seem to muster up any sort of idealism. The phone call at three that afternoon. The drive to Little Rock. And then the revelation of death. It was all too real. Nothing idealistic about seeing your only cousin ghost white and stone dead. Not much to idealize when you know your aunt is crying herself to sleep next door and nothing can be done.
Like most teenage boys, I, Cullen Witter, was in love with a beautiful girl who had a big, burly boyfriend who would just as soon kick my ass as look at me. His name was Russell Quitman, and I didn’t care too much for his brother or parents, either. But I sometimes dislike people by association. The girl’s name was Ada Taylor, and she could have probably kicked my ass too. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, just about everyone you know could probably kick my ass.) If you lived in Lily, Arkansas, which we all did, then you knew Ada, or at least knew about her. I’m pretty sure even some of the kids in Little Rock and Memphis heard stories about Lily’s own black widow.
You see, Ada Taylor had a grim history. As a sophomore in high school, when I was just a freshman, Ada was dating this ass-hat by the name of Conner Bolton. Conner was a senior and made it his personal mission to make every freshman in the school terrified to be caught walking alone or near the bathrooms, lockers, or trash cans. But alas, he died before Christmas break in a car accident. Ada was the only other passenger. She walked away without a scratch. Then, the next year, Ada was dating this okay guy who I used to play G.I. Joes with on the floor of my mom’s hair salon. His name was Aaron Lancaster. He didn’t even make it to Thanksgiving before he up and drowned in the White River during a thunderstorm. His dad found his empty fishing boat. A search party found his body four days later. I heard it looked like he had been microwaved.
After that, it almost seemed like a ridiculous thing to date Ada Taylor, or even go near her. But that didn’t matter much to the young men of Lily, even me. The unspoken philosophy of all those in love with Ada was something like this: If I have to die to get that, then death it is. But there we were with one week of school left and Russell Quitman was still breathing up all the air around him and taking up all the extra table space around him in the lunchroom with his monstrous biceps. I had bet Lucas that Russell wouldn’t last past Easter. That cost me ten bucks. You might think it sadistic to bet on an eighteen-year-old boy’s death or to talk about it like I wanted it to happen or something. This would just further prove that you’d never met Russell Quitman. Certain people are supposed to be the ones who burn up in fiery crashes or drown in the rapids of a river in the middle of the night. These are the Russell Quitmans of the world.
Dr. Webb says that most people see the world in bubbles. This keeps them comfortable with their place and the places of others. What he means is that most people, in order to feel okay about who they are and where they stand in relation to others, automatically group everyone into stereotypical little bunches. This is why boys who don’t like sports or don’t have promiscuous sex are always called gay, people who make good grades without studying are always called nerds, and people who seem to have no worries in the world and have a little bit of money are always called preps. As a straight-A student who hated football, I fit into two of these bubbles. This left me with things like Post-it notes saying “Cullen Witter’s a fag” stuck to my locker and big black glasses being drawn onto my photo in everyone’s yearbooks. Dr. Webb also says that the only way of dealing with the close-minded nature of most southern-born, conservative-leaning people is to either completely ignore their ignorance or to perpetuate it by playing into the set of standards that they subconsciously hold for each particular bubble. In short, if I would have whined about being called a fag, then I would have just been called a fag more often. And if Sara Burch would have ignored the boys in fifth grade when they called her a bookworm, then she might not have become the glorified slut she is today.
There are some, however, who seem to be immune to this epidemic of bubbles. They are people like Gabriel Witter, who is perhaps the most interesting person I’ve ever known, and I don’t say that just because he’s my brother. I say it because every morning since he turned eleven or so he would wake up before anyone else in the house, go out onto the porch, and read a chapter of a book. I say it because he listened to bands no one ever heard of. And he had amassed a collection of nearly fifty ties by the time he got into junior high, ties he wore to school every single day. I guess the most interesting thing about Gabriel was that he didn’t seem to care at all what people were thinking about him. He walked down the hallway at school with his head down not because he wanted to avoid being seen or dissuade social predators or anything, but simply because he didn’t see any reason to lift up his head. It took me a while to get to the point where I would walk both down the middle of the hallway and with my head upright. Of course, walking beside or behind Lucas always made this much easier. Given the choice between looking at Cullen Witter and looking at Lucas Cader, anyone would choose the latter.
I called Russell the Quit Man for two reasons. The first one was obvious, his last name. That’s a no-brainer. But the other reason I called him this was much more related to his character. It was because the most frequent thing heard when near Russell Quitman were the cries of whatever prey he was putting into a headlock or holding upside down or tripping in the hallway. “Quit, man. Quit!” How is it that Russell Quitman, the Quit Man, could be so cruel, such a huge douche bag, and still manage to go out with the prettiest girl in town? I call this the Pretty Paradox. Pretty girls always want guys who treat them, and most everyone else, like complete shit. It is perhaps one of the most baffling phenomena in history.
Book Title #72: Good Things Happening to Bad People.
I’m not sure why anything like the existence of the Quit Man or girls liking him surprised me in a place like Lily. Living in Lily, Arkansas, is sometimes like living in the land that time forgot. We do have things like Burger King and McDonald’s, and we even have a Walmart, but if you are looking for much more than that, you’ll just have to keep on driving through. Like most Arkansas towns, Lily does have an abundance of one thing: trees. Lily is all trees and dirt sliced into circles by curved roads. Lily is also water, though. The White River runs right along the edge of town and all the way across the state and over to the Mississippi.
If you’ve never been to Lily, and I bet you haven’t, then you need to know that it is located almost exactly halfway between Little Rock and Memphis. There are 3,947 people, according to the faded green sign on the side of the road as you drive into town, and most of those people are complete ass-hats who tried and subsequently failed to leave this place behind. One unique thing about Lily is that, for a small town in the middle of nowhere, it seems to be a very clean, well-kept sort of place. Lily is the kind of place you’d like to move to some short time before you die. If at any other time in your life you think you need the peace and quiet of Lily, Arkansas, then you should either see a therapist or stay there for a week and try to find anything half-entertaining to do.
Because I have few inner resources, I often found it very difficult to deal with the boredom brought on by living in Lily. My brother never seemed bored, and that only further angered me at the fact that I was most of the time unsettled and unfulfilled in everything I did. Gabriel was happy just reading a book or listening to music or walking around town with Libby Truett, his best friend. Well, I can only sit around listening to music or reading a book for so long before my mind starts to wander and picture images of Ada Taylor diving off Tilman’s Dock or flirting with the Quit Man outside of Burke’s Burger Box.
On this particular day, two days after my trip to the morgue, I decided to call Lucas and see what he had planned.
“I’m bored to death.”
“Wanna go for a drive?” he asked immediately.
“I’ll pick you up in five minutes.”
If you had to put Lucas Cader in a bubble, and you might be one of those people who has to do such a thing, then he would fit right smack dab in the middle of the preps. Now, keep in mind that I hate hate hate using stereotypical terms like prep and preppie, but it is unavoidable. These were the words my people, as it were, used to describe those high schoolers who dressed nice, bathed regularly, drove a nice vehicle (or, in Lily, drove a vehicle at all that wasn’t their parents’), or were on the football team. Feel free to apply whatever term you yourself would use to refer to this group if you were in my place. Lucas wasn’t much like me at all. He played football, for one thing. For another, he had a girlfriend. Her name was Mena Prescott, and she reminded me of the redhead from The Breakfast Club. She also made me uncomfortable by always hugging on me or kissing my cheek, always doing something that I assume she thought I would find flattering or sexy, but instead just found annoying and offensive. I also hated her accent. I understand that everyone who lives anywhere can be expected to have an accent, especially those of us down here in the South, but honestly, hearing her voice made me ashamed to be human, much less southern. Here’s an example: “Hey, y’all! I went o-ver th-a-y-er la-yast wayeek.” Try saying that three times fast.
Lucas pretended to love her as much as she thought he did. But it was all bull, really. As he pulled into my driveway, I let the screen door go with one finger and listened as it tap-tap-tapped on the door frame when it shut. The smell of cologne in Lucas’s car was overpowering.
“Did you bathe in that shit?” I asked, waving my hand before my face.
“How’s your aunt?”
Lucas did this all the time. You would ask him a question, serious or not, and he would manage to skillfully deflect it by bringing up something very important and distracting, out of the blue, and your previous thoughts would be left in the dust, just as my house was as we sped down Eighth Street toward town.
“She’s a little better. She’s eating now.”
“Seems the same to me.” I thought about my answer. It seemed wrong in some way.
“You know, he’s a good kid,” Lucas said.
“I like him all right,” I joked.
“I mean, you’ve got all these kids around here doing bad things. Getting into trouble and getting kicked out of school and all that mess. And then you’ve got Gabriel. He just sticks out, ya know? Like he’s better than this place or something. Know what I’m saying?”
“Yeah,” I said. I did not know what he was saying.
“I almost think of him as my little brother sometimes,” Lucas said in an oddly serious manner.
“Sell him to you for fifty bucks?”
One could always tell when Lucas was doing that thing where he was lost in his own thoughts, as would often happen when the topic of brothers came up. His eyes would get this certain strength about them, like they were really focusing on what was in front of them. And his lips would purse a little like he was getting ready to whistle. And one could only be left to sit back and witness this spectacle, waiting to see if anything brilliant or cathartic would come about. Usually it all ended within a few minutes, when Lucas would realize that he had gotten himself into an awkward position and made others around him feel uncomfortable. Lucas Cader was not in the habit of making others feel anything but comforted. As soon as we pulled up to Burke’s Burger Box, Mena Prescott ran up to his car window, leaned inside, and kissed him on the cheek. Then she walked around to my side, knocked on the window, waited for me to roll it down, and kissed me on the cheek as well. As she climbed into the backseat, I wiped her saliva and lipstick off my face.
“Did you really have to see his body, Cullen?”
She began her questions before Lucas could roll the windows back up and pull out of the parking lot.
“I really did,” I said blandly.
Mena Prescott had a past that did not involve innocent, good-natured boys like Lucas. It did, however, involve my overdosed cousin Oslo. Let me sum up their relationship like this: They met at a party when she was a freshman and he was a senior. They made out, both drunk, and then ran into each other one week later at the grocery store. They dated off and on for several weeks before Mena realized, I presume, that Oslo Fouke was nothing more than a drug addict and a bum. That moment in the car would be the last time Mena Prescott would ever mention Oslo Fouke, at least around me anyway.
When one is sitting in the passenger seat of his best friend’s car as an overly enthusiastic hillbilly is ranting in the backseat about being snubbed by a cheerleader at lunch, his mind begins to wander and think about zombies. Here’s the thing about zombies: They are supposed to be killed. You just have to do it. Humans are obligated to kill zombies, just as zombies have an obligation to seek out humans and feast on their flesh. It is for this reason that I was imagining Russell Quitman and his friend Neil as zombies, wreaking havoc on Lily and killing men, women, and children. They crept down Main Street, dragging their feet, each having one ankle completely limp and dangling behind him. A woman screamed from a store window. A car sped by and crashed into a nearby tree. The scene was a gruesome one until I arrived. Walking slowly and with much confidence, I approached the Quit Man and his minion with a shotgun in one hand and an ax in the other. After idly blowing off Neil’s slobbering head, I tossed the shotgun aside and double-gripped the ax. The Quit Man was upon me—his teeth more visible than anything else and his smell causing me to gag. I dug the ax into his leg. He fell to the ground, grasping at my pants as I tried to back away for a good, clean swing at him. I tripped, falling down beside him. Just as his teeth were about to pierce the flesh of my neck, his head was smashed in by a black boot. I looked up to see Lucas Cader, smiling and reaching a hand down. Crowds gathered around us and cheered loudly. The zombies had been defeated. “Lucas! Lucas! Lucas!” The sounds surrounded us as I re-established my footing and scanned the crowd for my brother. He sat alone on the edge of the sidewalk. He had been crying. Lucas put his hand on my shoulder and whispered into my ear, “He’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine now.”
Book Title #73: You May Feel a Slight Sting.
© 2011 John Corey Whaley
Posted June 26, 2012
I'm astounded at the anonymous review posted April 12, 2012 and feel compelled to respond. Although religion influences the action of some characters, I didn't find the book to be about religion. The environmental movement influences the actions of other characters, but the book isn't about environmentalism, either. I happened to read this book before knowing that it received any awards, and without reading much in the way of reviews, and I found it to the best coming-of-age novel since The Catcher in the Rye. The ending was perfect; heartwarming without being saccharine. When I learned about the awards WTCB has received, I wasn't surprised, of course, but once the stickers started showing up on the book's cover, I began to wish everyone could discover this gem of a novel on their own, without the preconceptions that come from learning about awards and reviews. My recommendation to prospective readers is to not be too influenced by my, or anyone's, viewpoint. Savor this book for its subtle complexities, as well as its marvelously dry hilarity, and treasure it for yourself.
6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2012
I really thought I was going to like this book, and there were some moments that made me think I would like it. However, I had some major issues with it, mostly I got the feeling that the author wanted to portray Cullen (the main character) as someone that had no idea why he did the things he did but at the same time Cullen also seemed to have a pretty good idea of who he was. Another thing that made me not like this book is the fact that people seemed to do things for no reason at all except that the author wanted them too. I think we didn't really get to know any of the characters in this book, especially Cullen's brother. I just felt like I had no idea why they did what they did throught the whole book, even though the author tried to explain what they were like. Most of the book told from the point of view of Cullen but the author does this annoying thing where he switches points of view, one minute Cullen will be saying "I did...." and the next he says something like "when one sees....he feels...he imagines" this happens at the end of almost every chapter and I think, was supposed to be used to show something but really just got on my nerves. I was not aware that this book was going to be so religious and the way it was religious really bothered me, I also found the whole 'second' story to be very unlikely and just weird. The Book of Enoch was mentioned a lot without really telling the reader why it was so important other than that it was banned, and it did not explain anything. The character Cabot (who is half of the second story) just seemed to suddenly switch from normal to crazy with no warning and no prompt. It was just ridiculous and unbelievable. It seemed like the author was just trying to find a way to tie things together. The plot had many interesting ways it could of gone and I was disappointed in the way it ended (which is the only reason I kept reading it, to see what happened). I suppose this book was just not for me, as some people seem to think it's very good but I feel as if I wasted my time reading it and gained nothing from it.
3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 6, 2012
Not your typical storyline. This story was a light read that grabbed me from the very beginning and wouldn't let go. Cullen lives in Lily, Arkansas, a small town that soon finds itself in national headlines due to the sighting of an extinct woodpecker. What happens next, though, is unreal. His brother Gabriel goes missing, and the story continues in the aftermath of Gabriel's disappearance without a trace. Cullen tries going on with his life, but struggles with it at the same time, and all the while making fun of the gentleman who claims to have spotted the return of the extinct bird, even laughing at the absurdity of the town changing their image to highlight the notorious Lazarus woodpecker. Powerful storytelling at it's best. A must read!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2013
Posted April 20, 2012
This story was unusual and strange is the best possible way. The plot is absolutely brilliant! This book combines teenage problems, society flaws, young love, and mystery. The protagonists are endearing and humorous, while the antagonists are - well, hate-able. You'll be guessing (in the good way) throughout the book. Bear with it, cause it gets good!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 24, 2013
Posted February 15, 2013
Posted January 16, 2013
Amazing, truly beautiful book that really stands out. In the bittersweetly heartbreaking style of John Green's books, Where Things Come Back is a truly memorable experience that all young adults and adults alike should give a chance. This book deserves to be next to Looking For Alaska and The Fault In Our Stars on everyone' s shelf
Posted December 16, 2012
I really did not like this book it was all over the place it told to many stories all at once and i think it would have been better if it would have told one story and then moved to the next story and explained how it connected to the other one. When i would finish one chapter i could get that one and thaught it was good then it would swich to something compleatly different. So, i did not like this book and i will not be recomending it to any other readers.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2012
Posted January 3, 2013
Posted September 24, 2012
True that there is a religious layer to the novel, but it is not endorsed. At first, I thought it was overwhelming. However, it is merely there to explain an unpopular and unknown religion.
The novel includes a few seemingly unconnected stories that are tied together later. At one point I was so shocked and depressed that I did not want to keep reading because i feared a tragic ending. I continued since I do not have the ability to put down a book once I have started. To say the least, I was not disappointed.
An easy read. One day if you have the time and will. I would recommend for not only teenagers, but parents as well.
Posted September 17, 2012
Posted July 28, 2012
I have only read the sample version, but it's enough for me to know that I am going to love the rest. It had me hooked from the first page, and when a book can manage to do that it's a big deal.
I will be buying this one!
Posted July 25, 2012
Really liked this book :). It had a good story line and enough action, eve at the beginning to keep me interested. You bet I'll be reading this book again!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 20, 2012
Posted April 20, 2012
I was so addicted to this book. It is now my favorite novel that I have ever read. I love the uniquness of the plot and how the two stories told intertwine in such a suprising way.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2012
In the long tradition of ¿Coming-of-Age¿ novels Where Things Come Back stands firmly above the middle of the pack. Referenced inside of this book was The Catcher in the Rye and you can see the similarities resting mostly below the surface, but sometimes held high above the story. Admittedly, I¿m not the biggest fan of the Coming-of-Age novel, and I usually think that they¿re a bit pompous and self-serving, but I really did enjoy this novel. I think that categorizing this one as a YA novel does it a bit of a disservice. Largely because the protagonist is a teenager, WTCB will be considered a book for teenagers. But ¿ and I¿m not holding it up quite as highly, it¿s just a comparison ¿ The Catcher in the Rye is not considered to be solely a YA novel. Everyone, it seems, is fighting over the newly ¿hot¿ teenage market and, if written today, The Catcher in the Rye would not be held as highly as it is at this point because it would be labeled and coded as being for only teenagers. I should start talking about the book this review is about instead of the book it¿s hoping to be. WTCB was very large in scope (for a 228p book) and tied most of the story lines together fairly well. Using different literary devices the author was able to bring different strings together in a way that was refreshing at the same time I wanted it to be annoying. Although the story sometimes seemed disjointed, tied together well enough that I was mostly happy by the ending. My only problem with the book was that I felt that the author got too close to the characters or story and didn¿t want to make some of the decisions he should have made. Or, possibly, he wanted to embrace the ambiguity of modern art. This, in the end, makes the book feel more like some sort of literary fiction and less like a YA novel. This isn¿t meant to be bad, or good, but it does express the feeling I had at the end of the book. 3/5Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 27, 2011
Where Things Come Back is a very intelligent, beautifully written debut literary novel. Whaley has created two plotlines intricately woven together that will both surprise and entertain readers. In one plotline, readers get a first-person point of view of Cullen, who goes through different stages of grief as he tries to deal with his brother's disappearance. In the second plotline, readers get a less concrete, third-person account of Benton and then Cabot, as they struggle to discover a way to change the world. Meanwhile, there is the giant Lazarus Woodpecker "flying around" in the background. Although it may appear that the story is about a small town and the return of a thought-to-be extinct bird, it is really not. It is a story is about zombies (just kidding.kinda). It is about a misguided obsession. It is about second chances. It is about Cullen and his relationship with his brother, his best friend, and his family.
Whaley does a great job with characterization. Though cynical at times, Cullen also showed hope and despair, presenting a well-rounded character. The reader was able to see his desire to get the heck out of his small town, his hatred for "that damn bird" and its overwhelming popularity, his sense of helplessness upon losing a brother. This helped create a closeness with Cullen that a reader should feel with the protagonist of a story. The brother dynamic was interesting because though Cullen was older than his brother, Gabriel is almost worshiped by Cullen. Gabriel is such an awesome character; it is easy to see why he is so respected by his older brother. Another character that I really enjoyed is Lucas, Cullen's best friend. He brings an element of cheerfulness into the Witter's home that masks his own hardships. Though Cullen may have been annoyed with him at times, he was very dependent upon Lucas's friendship. As for the other plotline, I was not really sure what is going through the minds of Benton and Cabot. This intentional vagueness gives both characters an air of mystery that is essential to the plot. I have to admit I was very confused in the first couple chapters and I desperately was trying to make connections between the two plotlines. Reader, be patient and trust your author, because it is brilliantly executed.
I picked this novel up because Sasha (Sash & Em) invited me to come along to a YA book club and author visit in Alexandria, VA. Being unfamiliar with the author and book, I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did! Corey Whaley is my new favorite author! Also known as the "woodpecker guy" (he even has a tattoo to match his nickname), Whaley is from a small town in Louisiana, off which Lily, AR is modeled. He is charming and witty-he kept us laughing throughout the book club. He noted that while there were components that are autobiographical, the similarities are becoming more apparent now, years after writing the book, than they were initially. An interesting fact is the story idea was inspired by a NPR interview with Whaley's favorite folk singer, Sufjan Stevens, about a small farming town and the return of an extinct woodpecker. Listen to the interview here. Another interesting fact, the cover is designed to look like a concert poster. I liked the cover before, but knowing makes me appreciate it more! This novel is awesome! And I cannot wait for Whaley's next novel (it has something to do with his favorite word, "defenestration").
Follow Corey Whaley on twitter @Corey_Whaley.
Posted April 15, 2012
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