Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Where Things Come Back

Arkansas town, via
Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2011

It's about:  Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter is having an eventful Summer.  First his cousin dies of an overdose.  Then an alleged siting of a supposedly-extinct woodpecker brings a flurry of activity to his small town in Arkansas.  Cullen even has a few shots at romantic relationships.  But everything seems pretty unimportant after Cullen's sensitive, kind-hearted younger brother disappears.

Meanwhile, in Africa, an 18-year-old missionary named Benton struggles with finding his true purpose.  His ideas and choices eventually have intense and unintended effects upon his philosophy-major roommate.

(And, of course, the two seemingly unrelated stories do come together in the end.)

I thought:  I really really liked this book.  Things started off right with a pretty title page and, on the back, lyrics credits given to Sufjan Stevens and TV on the Radio.  Plus I generally do love "Coming-of-Age" (ugh, that term!  Let's come up with a better one. Ideas?)  novels about outsider teens, especially with quirky or absurd elements.  Plus I award extra points for being set in the South.

So I guess Where Things Come Back and I were just meant to love each other.  Cullen won me over early with his earnestness and his attempts at cynicism and his love for his family.  His sections of the book really truly read like a smart teenager's writing: there are clich√©s here and there and attempts at originality that sometimes do and sometimes don't work.  He seems real and sincere, and because his story is alternated with the secondary story, he doesn't become tiresome.  John Corey Whaley has a degree in secondary English education; he probably graded plenty of essays that helped inspire a legit-sounding high schooler's style.

There are a lot of feelings in this book, but they worked well for me because Cullen is not an overemotional character and because he and everyone in the book seemed sincere.  Sincerity: it's a powerful thing.  I think that's what made me like Where Things Come Back.  The more I think about it the more sorry I am that it's over, and the more likely I am to read it again someday.  I hope John Corey Whaley will write more.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf for sure.

Reading Recommendations:  It's a quick, engaging read- pick it up when you have time to finish it in a few long sittings.  Don't stretch it out over a few weeks.

Warnings:  A fair number of swears and definitely some heavy themes.  My edition says it's for ages 14 and up, and I'd second that.

Favorite excerpts:  “We didn’t let them help us because we needed it, we let them help us because inside of humans is this thing, this unnamed need to feel as if we are useful in the world. To feel as if we have something significant to contribute. So, old ladies, make your casseroles and set them on doorsteps. And old men, grill your burgers and give them to teenagers with cynical worldviews. The world can’t be satisfied, but that need to fix it all can.”

“Being seventeen and bored in a small town, I like to pretend sometimes that I’m a pessimist. This is the way it is and nothing can sway me from that. Life sucks most of the time. Everything is bullshit. High school sucks. You can go to school, work for fifty years, then you die. Only I can’t seem to keep that up for too long before my natural urge to idealize goes into effect. I can’t seem to be a pessimist long enough to overlook the possibility of things being overwhelmingly good.”

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What I'm reading next:  Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets