Monday, January 25, 2016

Printz Review: Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley


Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley


Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face-to-face in a surprising and harrowing climax.


Review: I don’t think I got along with this book very well. It’s definitely not a bad book, but I don’t think it’s my kind of thing.

This book has four plotlines that come together at the end. In the first story, seventeen-year-old Cullen’s brother goes missing, and his family starts to fall apart.

In a second plotline, a birdwatcher thinks he spotted an extinct species of woodpecker in Cullen’s town. The town is flooded by tourists looking for the bird.

In the third plotline, two religious college students learn about a little-known book of the Bible. The information they discover changes the course of both their lives.

In another plotline, a girl who graduated from Cullen’s high school comes back to their small town after a failed relationship.

The plotlines converge slowly, which I really liked. At first, the plots seem to have nothing to do with each other, but as the book goes on, they come closer and closer together. Eventually, the way that the stories were related clicked in my mind. I needed to keep reading to find out if I was right. I liked the last 50 pages of the book much better than the rest of it. The story starts moving fast when the plotlines come together. I sped through the ending because I wanted to find out if Cullen got his brother back.

The writing style is the biggest reason that I struggled with this book. The best way that I can describe it is “detached.” The detachment does help avoid melodrama (which is great), but I never felt close to the characters. I was interested in the mystery of Cullen’s brother’s disappearance, but I didn’t really care about the outcome of the mystery because I couldn’t connect with anyone involved in it.

I also struggled with Cullen’s narration style. It starts to feel repetitive as the book goes on. He often talks about himself in third person and has elaborate fantasies. Some of the fantasies are about killing zombies. I understand how the zombies tie in to the theme (zombies are “things that come back”), but I think the fantasies take up too much of the book. I was tempted to skim a lot of the parts that are about Cullen’s imagination.

Other than the ending, there is one other part of the book that I really like. At one point, Cullen’s family hires a psychic to find his missing brother. The family members’ mixed reactions to the psychic feel realistic. Some family members want to give the psychic a chance, and others roll their eyes, but they are all very invested in what the psychic says.

Overall, this book wasn’t for me, but there are parts of it that I really liked.





12 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to see that this book wasn't for you! I've been wanting to check it out for a while, so I may still give it a shot.
    Krystianna Downright Dystopian

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  2. I really like when a book has separate plot lines that come together in the end. Still that feeling detached part makes me hesitant. Sorry this wasn't better for you!

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    1. Yeah, I usually like all the plots, too. The writing style of this one just didn’t work for me.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. Even though it wasn't for you, the way you described it makes it sound pretty interesting to me! I have a weird low-key obsession with birds and bird watching. I'm going to have to add this to my ever growing list of books.

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  4. Ugh, it's so hard when you can't connect with characters. Although I definitely depend mostly on plot, I HAVE to connect with the characters to have a good reading experience. I would probably have problems with the four plot lines too. That can really be hit or miss. I'm glad you at least enjoyed some of it!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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    1. I had a hard time getting into this one, but it does have some good parts.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. Is it weird that award winning books often fall short for me? Maybe it's the build up of expectations? Sorry you didn't enjoy this anyway!

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    1. I’ve had pretty good luck with the Printz winners. I think there have only been 3 or 4 that I didn’t like. I'm often disappointed with award-winners too.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time though I never got to it. Books with bird themes in them attract me. I don't know about award winning books... I don't think I've read that many. Well... one time I read an Oprah book club pick and it was NOT for me. After that I avoided those.

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  7. Great Review AJ. I am sorry that this book was not for you. I have been intrigued about this book since I first heard about it a few years ago. But I have a feeling this book was not my kind of book as well. After reading your review now I know this book is not for me. It just a gut feeling that I know I would never really like this book. Thank you for your post AJ.

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