Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
John Corey Whaley's (Where Things Come Back) antagonist Cabot Searcy steals the show. He reminds me of Hazel Motes from Flannery O'Conner's Wise Blood. Searcy learns about a secret writing called "The Book of Enoch" and can only be found in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible--upon reading its story of the archangel Gabriel being sent to Earth by God to destroy the children of the fallen angels, Cabot Searcy becomes consumed with it.
Searcy's plot line plays second fiddle to the protagonist Cullen Witter for much of the novel--and for much of the novel I felt in limbo. Nothing seemed to happen...even though I was intrigued and had bought in to the lives of the small town people of Lily, Arkansas.
Consumed by the possible return of a thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker, the townspeople of Lily embrace the hope that elusive Lazarus woodpecker has resurrected itself in their humble town. Led by college professor John Barling, the townspeople believe because they want to believe--they need to believe--that something special could happen for them. Upon this backdrop that we join in the ten-week wait, the patient and painful ten-week wait, for any word or sign of their youngest son, fifteen-year-old Gabriel Witter. Gabriel vanished one day without a trace just a week or so after attending the funeral of their cousin Oslo Foukes--a local junkie who succumbed to demons he could never defeat.
And as a reader, you wait, and wait, and wait for any sign of hope...for any tangible proof that this woodpecker has returned, and for any shred of evidence for a lead into what happened to Gabriel Witter. You hold it together with Cullen, yet like Cullen, you have no idea what to believe...or how Gabriel's story will end. Whaley's narrator processes this for the reader, and for me, serves as the heart of the story:
"We can be comforted in the fact that life will always be a struggle. There will always be false hopes. Lazarus woodpeckers. There will be John Barlings to lead us astray and Oslo Foukes to remind us that maybe we are doing things right after all."
I can imagine my stronger and mature student readers caught up in this book and definitely recommend it for a classroom library anywhere from 8th grade and up.
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