Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
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, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. When those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.
Normally, I wouldn't pick up a book that made so much of itself just in its blurb. Either it raises my expectations too high or it seems like the book is making too much of itself. Some poorly-blurbed books rise above their adjective-filled summaries, but Where Things Come Back does not.
I do agree that the story had a generous helping of absurdity. Religious zeal, prophetic visions, and weird imaginings of zombies fill the chapters. Cullen also repeatedly talks about himself in the third person (When one does this, he often...) which got old fast. Beside the absurdity, though, Where Things Come Back doesn't really live up to its descriptors.
I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and to be fair, some of them are true. The characters are likable and interesting; and Cullen makes some good points in his rambling. The chain reaction that begins with Benton Sage and spans the length of the book was pretty clever, but Cullen's chapters were duller.
If you've read more than one of my reviews, you've probably caught onto the fact that I dislike most YA romances. Where Things Come Back was happily instalove-free, but the romance still fell flat. (This may contain spoilers) It starts with Cullen's obsession over the girl, Ada, who is incidentally the hottest girl in town. Of course, Cullen gets the girl - but more because she pities him and he idolizes her than because they actually love each other. I hesistate to call it a "love story," actually; there wasn't much love. Alma Ember's love stories were a bit more realistic.
Whaley did a great job of combining the stories of Benton Sage, Cullen Witter, and everyone connected with them. They wove together seamlessly, which is no small feat. The writing of Where Things Come Back was by no means subpar, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to.
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