A quirky coming-of-age story, perfect for fans of John Green, David Levithan and Stephen Chbosky.
Cullen Witter's fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared. Angry and looking for answers, Cullen must navigate his way through a summer of finding and losing love while holding his fragile family together.
Meanwhile a young missionary in Africa is searching for meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as they seem, these stories are thoughtfully woven together, before a surprising and harrowing climax.
Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity; Where Things Come Backis about finding wonder in the ordinary and the dream of second chances.
In this darkly humorous debut, Whaley weaves two stories into a taut and well-constructed thriller. Acerbic 17-year-old aspiring writer Cullen Witter narrates the first, bemoaning the tedium of smalltown life ("Living in Lily, Arkansas, is sometimes like living in the land that time forgot"), until the Lazarus woodpecker, thought to be extinct, allegedly reappears, and his 15-year-old brother, Gabriel, goes missing. The alternating story line, told in an ominous third-person voice, begins with the story of Benton Sage a failed teenage missionary, who leaves Ethiopia for the University of Atlanta but it soon veers in unexpected directions as the action converges on the town of Lily. Vulnerability balances Cullen's arch sarcasm, and the maelstrom of media attention lavished on the woodpecker offers an element of the absurd, especially when juxtaposed against the mystery of Gabriel's disappearance. The portentous tone and flat affect of Whaley's writing is well-suited to the story's religious themes and symbolism (Gabriel, the Lazarus woodpecker, the apocryphal Book of Enoch), as Whaley gradually brings the story's many threads together in a disturbing, heartbreaking finale that retains a touch of hope. Ages 14 up.