You know how there’s always that one book you read as a teen that becomes the book by which you judge all others? For me, that book was Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger — and though I have loved many, many books, there has only been a small handful of titles that made me feel the way I did reading Catcher in the Rye.
Where Things Come Back tells the story of 17-year-old Cullen Witter, as he comes of age in the midst of the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother — all the while his small, Southern town is swept up with mania over an alleged siting of a previously extinct woodpecker. Cullen’s story is juxtaposed with the seemingly unconnected tale of a young missionary and where his life goes following a trip to Africa.
Though seemingly disjointed at first, the complexities of the two interwoven tales is utter perfection. Each element of the story is stellar on its own — but it’s seeing the two halves come together, complementing and completing each other, that really makes Where Things Come Back a breathtaking piece of literature.
Likewise, Cullen is a compelling narrator for his half of the story, as he navigates the emotional ups and downs of adolescent romance, unlikely friendships, and the heartbreaking disappearance of his beloved younger brother. Cullen’s emotional turmoil isn’t just told; it’s illustrated — in his actions, in his words to other characters, and in the amusing (and sometimes disturbing) visions he imagines of angels and zombies. (Yes. Angels. And zombies. Really.)
Cullen’s story is starkly contrasted with the unsettling 3rd-person narrative of the alternating chapters, which take a strange and, at first, seemingly disconnected turn from Cullen’s world — only to have them both collide in a shocking, heartbreaking and surprisingly hopeful climax.
Whaley’s dry, humorous writing style is refreshing and delightful to read — and keeps the heavy religious imagery from becoming heavy-handed or overwhelming. It simply becomes part of the narrative — from Cullen’s brother (purposely named Gabriel), to the idea of the Lazarus woodpecker. Each element of the story has a purpose, and even those that aren’t obvious at first, are revealed by the very last page.
Where Things Come Back is a book that will keep you turning the pages and linger with you long after finishing the last page. More than anything, it will give you a renewed sense of hope even in the most unlikely of ways.
Where Things Come Back is in stores May 3rd. We’ll be featuring it all next week here at Novel Novice, so check back for some unique features and a very cool contest!