Book: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: May 3, 2011
Summary: There are two seemingly unrelated stories in Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (which struck me as Dickensian from the beginning). In the first, Cullen Witter resigns himself to life in boring small town Lily, Arkansas, only to be overwhelmed by the publicity surrounding the sighting of the Lazarus woodpecker, long thought to be extinct. Annoyance turns to anger when Cullen’s brother disappears and the town seems more interested in finding a stupid bird than his awesome brother. In the second story line, Benton Sage discovers his mission in life to be a missionary isn’t all that he thought it would be. Twists, turns, and tragedies beset these two and the intriguing cast of characters that are their friends and family.
Thoughts: This is an Advance Reviewer Copy that a friend picked up at an event for librarians. I put it at the top of my stack because of the woodpecker. In the mid-80s, I bought my first bird book, Roger Tory Peterson’s Eastern Birds. I remember flipping through it, looking for the coolest birds. One of the most magnificent birds, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, had one of the saddest entries: “Very close to extinction, if, indeed, it still exists.” I never really took to bird watching (botany is much more my speed — plants don’t fly off the instant you get them in focus), but I stayed interested enough to be thrilled by reports in 2004 that a living, wild Ivory-Billed Woodpecker had been spotted in Arkansas. Unfortunately, confirmation has apparently been hard to come by and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology seems to have stopped its active search for the bird.
Appeal: The tone of this book was oddly distancing. As an adult, I find it a bit disturbing to be so emotionally separated from some pretty horrible events, but it actually makes for a wider potential audience. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to a sensitive seventh grader with a slightly less than healthy fascination with abductions. If this book doesn’t cure the obsession, maybe she or he is destined to be an FBI agent (in which case, I recommend FBI — Fun & Games). The most natural audience, though, is the surly teenager who thinks life in this town sucks (no matter what town or what size). In this book, he or she will find validation and maybe a little hope.
Have you read this book? What did you think?