On My Bookshelf: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

March 06, 2017

In Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, summer in a small town in Alabama is anything but dull when Cullen's cousin overdoses, his brother disappears, the most beautiful girl in town becomes his girlfriend, and the town goes nuts over the alleged sighting of a rare bird. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: 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.
In Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, summer in a small town in Alabama is anything but dull when Cullen's cousin overdoses, his brother disappears, the most beautiful girl in town becomes his girlfriend, and the town goes nuts over the alleged sighting of a rare bird. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: I picked up Where Things Come Back in my quest to read more young adult literature with male protagonists. In the main storyline, I loved the relationships between Cullen and his brother Gabriel, and between the two of them and Cullen's best friend Lucas. The author's description of the small town in Alabama brought it, and all of its quirks to life. Despite the tragic events: the death of Cullen's cousin, the disappearance of his younger brother, and his family's grief in response to the two events, there was also humor throughout the novel, particularly the town's obsession to the supposed sighting of a rare bird.

The second storyline, focused on a mission trip to Africa that doesn't meet expectations, was less engaging for me; it reminded me of The Book of Mormon, but much less funny. The two plot lines eventually intersect, but the events that followed were a little too much like an episode of Criminal Minds to be convincing.

Classroom application: I would add this one to a high school library. The cover of the book may not grab your male readers, so you may want to put this one out during a "blind dating" book event.

It might be interesting for students to do some research on the stages of grief and compare that to how Cullen's family members handle the tragedy in their lives.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Where Things Come Back for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



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