Sunday, August 4, 2013

Contemporary Realistic YA Fiction Book Review: WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley


Whaley, John C. 2011. WHERE THINGS COME BACK. New York, NY: Atheneum Books. ISBN: 978-1442413344

When seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter’s cousin dies his life changes in several unexpected ways.  From the possible reappearance of an extinct bird to the disappearance of his little brother, Cullen’s life seems to turn upside down.  Then there is Benton Sage, another young man trying to figure out his place in the world and how the choices he makes can affect the lives of so many people.

Whaley intertwines the lives of two young men: Cullen Witter and Benton Sage.  Although strangers, the lives of these two boys are very much connected through a series of events and circumstances that ultimately causes heartache and grief.  Lily, Arkansas is not the most exciting place to live and like many people living in a small town it seems like there is no escape. People leave but ultimately come back for one reason or another.  The theme of coping with depression while still having to live your life is a struggle for many in this story.  Cullen has to cope with the fact that his younger brother may never be found, and that people in his little town seem more preoccupied with a long lost woodpecker than the fact that his brother has disappeared. You see the grieving process played-out through Cullen, his friends, and his parents - each dealing with the disappearance of Gabe Witter in their own way.  Whaley weaves in short flash backs of how special Gabe was to his family, as well as Cullen’s wild imagination of everyone turning to zombies or the Lazarus woodpecker talking to him. 

The characters are identifiable and real with their flaws and reactions to the world around them.  Cullen’s mother tries to go about her daily life and act as if nothing has happened or that her son will return very soon.  Cullen’s father, on the other hand, doesn’t stop looking for his son or researching missing persons.  Cullen also goes through different stages of the grieving process, from disbelief, shock, grief, anger, and then despair.  Through all of this, Cullen is supported by his friends who never give up hope and keep him from going into an even deeper depression. 

There are a lot of religious connotations with the story of Benton Sage.  He worked hard to become a missionary to please his father, but it didn’t turn out the way he expected.  The theme of father vs. son is shown here as the son does all he can to make his father proud but is turned away by cruelness when he doesn’t meet those expectations.  Benton questions everything he has ever learned about his religion when he gets little to no support from his church or family during a time when he needs it the most.  As you go back and forth from Cullen’s story to Benton’s, you finally see towards the end how these two strangers are connected and the unknown consequences of their decisions.  This story is a powerful read for mature young adult audiences who have lost a loved one and yet still have to move on with their lives.  It’s also a story about true friendship and second chances.

KIRKUS: “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.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL:  “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.”

BOOKLIST: “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.”
* This book is great to share with mature readers 15 years and up to learn more about the different stages of the grieving process and that everyone copes in their own way.   A gripping story that compels the reader to think twice about choices they make and the importance of friendship and family.
*Other books about losing a loved one or depression:
Green, John. LOOKING FOR ALASKA. ISBN: 978-0142402511
Jenkins, A.M. DAMAGE. ISBN: 978-0064472555
Staub, Wendy Corsi. ALL THE WAY HOME. ASIN: B00BW94HW0

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