Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Coming of Age

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Coming of Age

When Where Things Come Back opens up, Cullen, his brother, and their friends are all in that in-between phase between childhood and adulthood, some itching to leave their small town in Arkansas and take on the world, but all doing the good, hard—and at times awkward—work of growing up.

In the parallel narrative, the characters are trying to grow up, but with mixed results. Alma goes to college, but ends up married, divorced, and right back where she started; Benton becomes a missionary to please his parents, but ends up disappointing them (and himself) more than ever when he returns. To put it mildly, no one said that growing up is easy. 

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. What do you think Cullen learns during the summer of his brother's disappearance?
  2. Why does Alma end up leaving Lily? How does doing so change her?
  3. How do you think Benton's journey as a missionary changes his way of thinking about life? 

Chew on This

Although Benton Sage goes on his mission to make his parents proud, part of the growth that he undergoes on the trip leads to the realization that he will never be able to live up to their expectations.

Cullen cannot fall in love with Alma Ember because she represents his greatest fear in growing up—someone who tries to leave Lily in order to better herself, but ultimately fails. 

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