Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Coming of Age

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Coming of Age

I'd wanted my dad to come along so I wouldn't have to play man for the evening by driving the whole way and making sure everyone ate and all. I didn't so much mind the body identifying. That part was bound to happen, one way or another. (1.8) 

Well this is kind of an awful burden to take on as the default "man of the house." It's too bad Cullen's dad is working and is leaving the dirty work of corpse identification to his eldest son. 

"That's the thing—this is a town of people who used to be like us. You think anyone in Lily grew up dreaming about raising their families here? You think if they all had a choice, they wouldn't leave tomorrow?" (3.125) 

Now that Cullen and his friends are growing up, they're starting to see the shortcomings of their hometown. It's not the most exciting place in the world; it's more of a last resort for people who have exhausted all their dreams.  

People dreamed. People left. And they all came back. It was like Arkansas's version of a black hole; nothing could escape it. I lay there silent beside my brother, my best friend and his girlfriend wading in the water before me, and I knew we were all just in the prelude to disappointment after disappointment. (3.126) 

Our resident pessimist Cullen Witter doesn't exactly have the rosiest view of the rest of his life. In fact, he thinks that adulthood will just bring a series of disappointments. How charming. 

What I noticed about Alma Ember is that she didn't seem nervous at all. I guess that is what the world does to you. Or what growing up does, anyway. She seemed quite comfortable to be riding in the backseat of a seventeen-year-old's car with a bunch of high schoolers who I'm sure she'd told herself she'd never see again. (5.61) 

A lot of the disconnect that Cullen feels with Alma has to do with the fact that she's older and has lived through more life experiences than him. Quite honestly, it's kind of intimidating. How is a seventeen-year-old supposed to relate to someone who's already been through a divorce? 

He highlighted every important line. He bookmarked every referenced page. He scribbled notes in the margins. Cabot Searcy began to care about learning not for the sake of making good grades, but because he still wanted to change the world. (8.29) 

Cabot Searcy enters college as an irresponsible, fun-loving, rich boy. It's a good thing that he meets serious scholar Benton Sage, then, because he really helps Cabot to turn his work ethic around. 

I never wanted to feel grown up, to be like an adult. I wanted to scream until it hurt my throat and made me talk funny for the rest of the day, and I wanted to run through my neighbor's sprinklers and track mud into the house and shake my wet hair like a dog would in the middle of the living room. (13.46) 

Cullen may want to leave Lily, Arkansas, as fast as he can, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to grow up and take on big boy responsibilities. He just wants to live like a kid for a while.

Her freshman year proved more challenging than she'd hoped, but Alma walked out on the last day of the semester with an A average and a long, steady stride, her hair in a swinging ponytail, her green and white skirt bouncing at her every step. (14.5) 

Getting away from Lily and going to college has definitely changed Alma into someone more experienced and confident with herself, just like Cullen and his friends suspected. It doesn't keep her from getting hurt or making mistakes, though. 

And as for myself, well, I was still trying to find out who I was back then. Trying to figure out why I said and did the things I said and did. Trying to figure out why I cried ten minutes after Lucas told me Ada was at Russell's but never shed a tear when my cousin dropped dead. Wondering why I had written nearly ninety titles, but not one single book. (15.107)

Ah, the pains of growing up. Cullen is having a pretty difficult time figuring out who he is, what he wants to do with his life, and where he wants to go. Losing his brother certainly doesn't make that task any easier. 

He suddenly wanted to know what my interests were. What I wanted to major in. What my dreams for my life were, and how I planned on making them come true. What impact I wanted to have on the world. (17.1) 

Cullen's dad is suddenly focused on his college prospects, which seems weird in the face of what's going on. But maybe it makes sense that he's focused on his son's future; after all, he's helpless when it comes to Gabriel's future. 

In those days when it felt as if summer was dwindling away and my future refused to stop beckoning and harassing me at every turn, I started to find comfort in my own little game of What If? (17.133) 

Cullen has a hard time deciding what to do about his future when his brother is missing. College is pretty much the last thing on his mind when he just wants Gabriel to come home again. He's not ready to grow up yet… especially if that future doesn't involve his brother. 

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