When Things Come Back Book Review

When Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Cullen Whitter hates his boring ass-hat town, full of boring ass-hat people and dreams of the day when he can escape. Until then he suffers through saved only by his best-friend Lucas and his very cool little brother Gabriel. Then an ego-centric birdwatcher announces that he has discovered the extinct Lazarus Woodpecker. This discovery puts Cullen's small town on the map, but while everyone else is going Lazarus crazy, the Whitter family is desperately searching for Gabriel who has mysteriously gone missing. Interweaved within the novel is a second plot in which a young missionary goes to Africa and loses his faith and this seeming innocuous event leads a chain of events that will change Cullen's life forever.

Winner of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, I obviously felt obligated to read this book. Having just read another book about two brothers of about the same age, I spent the first fifty pages confusing the characters of this book with the ones in Angry Young Man. Once I got past that though, I just felt confused. The second plot with the missionary kid was often jarring. I trusted the author to make it connect and he did, but I don't know if I expected it to go to crazy. Honestly, I thought it would be more sinister than what it was.

Whaley established a righteous anger in his readers too as each day and week passes and they are no closer to finding Gabriel. It is like no one cares and no one is helping them look. As if a missing fifteen-year-old is no big deal and that woodpecker overshadows everything. This sense of helplessness with Cullen and his family is really the most engaging part of the story. And it is the mystery too for the reader is forced to ask, up until the very last page, What happened to Gabriel?

I don't know if I consider this the best book that came out last year, but I can see why it was in the running. In the end, I personally didn't like the crazy place that it went and found the second storyline to still be rather out of touch with Cullen's world.