Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plot Summary:
Lily Arkansas is a small town where everyone aspires to leave the moment they turn eighteen years old. However, somehow, someway, those who swore they would never return always find their way back. For Cullen Witter, Lily has very little to offer him other than adding to his cynical point of view about life and people. Luckily, Cullen has a younger brother, Gabriel, not only keeps his cynicism in check, but provides him comfort and happiness even if he doesn't want to to be feel happy. However, Cullen's life has taken a tragic turn when their cousin, Oslo, dies of an overdose and Gabriel goes missing. What was supposed to be another year, turns into ten years where Cullen must press on despite the loss of his brother. With the help of his best friend, Lucas, and the town of Lily, they set out on a search, which is later bypassed when the sudden reappearance the once extinct Lazarus Woodpecker. Told in various point of views, this story intertwines the lives of four young men who are not only trying to meet the expectations of their families and peers, but find out, exactly, what their purpose on this earth is.

Critical Evaluation:
In this riveting and complex story, Whaley takes readers on an unexpected adventure where a variety of deep topics are discussed and dissected. One topic, which was totally out of left field, is the Book of Enoch. For those who are not familiar with Apocrypha, or apocryphal texts, will read about the Book of Enoch, which can only be found in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. With the story of Benton, which ends up relating to Cullen and Gabriel, is his quest to determine if God loves unconditionally or he fears us ( i.e., The Left Hand of Gabriel, the Nephilim, and the Flood). Although readers won't quite see the similarities between Cullen and Benton, off the bat, they will eventually learn that their connection to Gabriel (the Archangel and Cullen's brother) who will determine their fates. Along with this component, Whaley integrates the usual teenager issues such as love, sex, anger, inadequacy, and angst, but does it in a way that makes all of us realize that we, as humans, have a reason to feel the way we do. For Cullen, being unable to cry over the death of his cousin, and dealing with the disappearance of his brother, convey how utterly confused and lost he is. For Benton and Cabot, the shared obsession with the "What If" will drive them to do things they never thought they would ever do. Although the ending will shock the heck out of readers, this is a gripping novel that both teens and adults will want to talk about.

Information about the Author:
According to his website, he grew up in a small town in Louisiana. He received a B.A. from Louisiana Tech University and an M.A. in Secondary Education. As a child, Whaley wrote stories about aliens and underwater civilizations, which later evolved to realistic fictions that might have a zombie character or two. He is a teacher and full-time writer who enjoys traveling, music, and movies. When asked about his first novel, Where Things Come Back, Whaley says:
What the novel is really about is a teenage boy who just so happens to have been raised in a place he absolutely hates with a town full of people he’d rather not know . [...] When the town he despises is flooded with strangers who are desperately searching for a lost species of woodpecker, Cullen’s world, which he barely understands in the first place, reaches its pinnacle of madness.  And Cullen is supposed to decide what to do with the rest of his life under these ridiculous circumstances? Now throw in a recently deceased cousin and a close younger brother whose sudden disappearance submerges Cullen and his family’s life into utter chaos.  With this novel, I set out to not only write a story about the possibility of second chances, but also about the people who crave them the most.
Teen Contemporary Fiction

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 10 & up

Books Similar to Where Things Come Back:
Awards & Recognition:
  • 2012 Michael L. Printz Award Winner
  • 2012 William C. Morris Debut Award

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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