A brother gone missing, a religious fanatic, and the miraculous reappearance of an extinct bird, all in one Podunk town? No, this isn't a fantasy—it's the plot of Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley's 2011 book about the pains of growing up in a small community, and the difficulty of finding your own path as a young adult.
Cullen Witter lives in the small town of Lily, Arkansas, and has a pretty insulated life. Nothing interesting happens, and he longs to get away and start over somewhere else, somewhere more exciting. He doesn't know what he wants to do with his life yet, but he knows that he doesn't want to live out the rest of his days in Lily just like his parents and everyone else around him. He sees his hometown as a place where dreams go to die, and can you blame him? It isn't exactly the most fascinating place on the map.
Until it is… thanks to the aforementioned missing brother, resurrected bird, and religious nut.
We don't want to spoil the story for you, so we'll just say this: Cullen's not the only one dealing with a difficult growing up period in this book, and we also witness two other young men struggling to come into their own thanks to a parallel plot thread. And when all the different storylines converge? Well, it's one breathtaking roller coaster ride through young adulthood. Which is probably why it's won so many prizes and had so many people say such nice things about it.
At the heart of it, Where Things Come Back is about feeling left out and alone, even when you're surrounded by your family, hometown, and the things that are familiar to you. Cullen doesn't feel like he has a set goal in life, so he's kind of floating through his teenage years—and this only gets worse when the person he loves more than anything, his brother, goes missing.
Cullen's not the only one navigating loneliness, though, and even though Cabot is a few years older and has been to college, he's still dealing with the same kind of uncertainty and fear about where his life will lead. And Benton, of course, just might still be alive at book's end if he didn't feel so alone in the world.
Unlike other books that neatly resolve their characters' struggles with isolation, Where Things Come Back lets loneliness run wild, exposing its terrible messiness from a variety of angles. We're hard pressed to think of a character who doesn't bump into it, so if you've ever felt lonely (and we know that you have), you just might feel a little less so by the time you finish reading.
Read All About It
Read all about Where Things Come Back and author John Corey Whaley on his official website.
Kirkus reviews Where Things Come Back and refers to it as a "multi-layered debut for sophisticated readers." That sure sounds nice.
Pieces of Me
In an interview, John Corey Whaley admits that a lot of the teenage characters in Where Things Come Back have pieces of him in them. So that's how he's able to make them all so believable and real…
Coming to a Bookstore Near You
Check out the official book trailer for Where Things Come Back...featuring an angst-ridden boy in a Led Zeppelin t-shirt wandering through a field.
Meet and Greet
If you want to get to know John Corey Waley a little bit better, then skip your usual podcast and spend the next hour watching this Q&A with him instead.
Rest Those Weary Eyes
If you'd rather let a story wash over you the old fashioned way—in a soothing, professional voice actor's voice—then pick up the audio version of this tale.
The Bird is the Word
The cover of Where Things Comes Back features the Lazarus woodpecker quite prominently. So, you know, Cullen would probably hate it.
John Corey Whaley doesn't look that much older than the angst-ridden teenagers that he writes about, huh?