Where Things Come Back

John Corey Whaley

fiction contemporary young adult
emotional mysterious slow-paced

228 pages | first published 2011

Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.

What the community thinks

summary of 699 ratings (see reviews)

Moods

emotional 80%
mysterious 60%
sad 60%
dark 40%
hopeful 40%
reflective 40%
tense 40%
funny 20%
inspiring 20%
lighthearted 20%

Pace

medium 57%
slow 28%
fast 14%

Plot- or character-driven?

A mix: 33% | Character: 33% | Plot: 33%

Strong character development?

No: 40% | Yes: 40% | N/A: 20%

Loveable characters?

It's complicated: 40% | Yes: 40% | No: 20%

Diverse cast of characters?

No: 60% | It's complicated: 20% | N/A: 20%

Flaws of characters a main focus?

No: 40% | Yes: 40% | It's complicated: 20%

Average rating

3.77