Randomly drawn to this book by some awards stickers and a cover reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars, I was not let down. While I can say I REALLY enjoyed this book, I’ll admit I was thoroughly confused by the first fifty to one-hundred pages. After that things didn’t get much better, but at least by that time I was accustomed to the unique way Whaley chose to write this. Where Things Come Back is a complex series of plots and points of view which, at first, have nothing to do with each other. The magic is how they all become interwoven at the end.
At the middle of this story we have the very interesting (and oddly named) Cullen Witter. Cullen is seventeen, lives in a small Arkansas town, and is best friends with his high school’s Mr. Popular, Lucas Cader. This is a bit funny, because Cullen is in no way popular himself, coming across as sort of impassive about the world around him. There are flashbacks to times when he was appropriately engaged with the world, but those were mostly before his cousin OD’d, and his kind and intelligent brother, Gabriel, went missing.
Laid within Cullen’s story are tidbits from others: a misguided missionary; the beautiful town legend who’s returned after a failed shot-gun marriage; a washed-up bird watcher who thinks he’s spotted an extinct woodpecker, alive and well and out of hiding. To Cullen’s great dismay, everyone in town goes nuts about the bird, while the whereabouts of his brother gets swept aside. New relationships and old friendships are tested, some with good outcomes, others not so much. Religious themes reign, as each of the characters struggles with some question regarding what to believe. The book ends on a simultaneously sad and hopeful note.
Things I Liked: Each small-town character was so fleshed-out and real, there for a purpose even if they were only present for one page of the book. While Gabriel was painted as this perfect teenager with no discernible flaws, it seemed to fit with how the remaining family would view the lost member. This book was also funny! Where Things Come Back is so layered and rich with detail, it hit me right in the gooey centre of my book-lovin’ heart: it made me laugh, think, and sigh deeply. I don’t think I’ll ever quite fit all the threads of this book together unless I read it a second time. (We’ll see.)
Why I Was Confused: Especially having gone into this novel with no recommendations, never having heard about it, and judging it by the awards it’s won, I can definitively say I had waffling expectations. This book still surprised me. During those first fifty pages I was tempted to quit. After finishing the book, I was tempted to go right back to the front cover and start over. Things I didn’t like – for example, the characters’ so-weird-they-must-be-cool names and Cullen’s propensity as a first-person narrator to jump into third and then back again – took some getting used to. In the end, however, I found the writing and the story itself compelling and beautifully quirky. See? Even my complaints can’t stay negative.
The verdict? This is a very good, very weird book. If you like good, weird YA books, I recommend you give it a try.