…On Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Posted June 1, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 44 Comments

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley
Published by Atheneum BYR
Publish Date: May 3, 2011
228 Pages
Source: I bought this myself!

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. –(summary from Goodreads)

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley

My Thoughts: Like some of my other book-blogging friends, I first heard about Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley when I started seeing it pop up on Twitter in conversations here and there. And it didn’t stop! And then people started talking about how much they loved it, how excellent it was, and how they would loan each other their copies if they would just read it, please read it NOW! (You guys, that’s some big stuff to catch the eye of a reader – if there’s a book going around with a little bit of buzz, we tend to want to know more about it.) So I looked it up and SURE ENOUGH! it was YA Contemporary. DANGIT! You see, I wasn’t reading the Contemps at that time. Nosiree…But I loved the cover, I thought the title was catchy, and I had read that this particular author loved the music of Sufjan Stevens, which rotates heavily on my iPod. Sold! I was in! Sure, I’d read the book…eventually.

The first thing you need to know is this:
I was excited to read this book
because it was an award winner!

Oddly enough, I was a fan of the book long before I read it and I was ecstatic when Where Things Come Back won the Printz Award and the William C. Morris Debut Award in 2012. YAY for you, Whaley! I was actually listening live to the awards – I was alone in my living room and threw my arms up in the air, so excited was I for this book. I remember that I wasn’t alone – several of my blogging friends were listening with me and tweeting live too. (Y’all, I was nervous and it isn’t even my book. That is truth.)

The second thing you need to know is this:
I was scared to read this book
because I was scared that I would cry.

Ugh, it’s true – I hate crying when I read books (even though I do it sometimes). I kept seeing the words “emotions” and “emotional” pop up when people were talking about this one and I was just…scared. It took me forever to decide to read it, but when I did – I couldn’t put it down. I was captivated!

The third thing you need to know is this:
This book was an absolute delight to read.
And I did not cry a single tear.
I read this book in March in Eastern North Carolina – perfect weather – while I was sitting on my front porch. I’m a Southern girl who sat on her Southern porch to read this book that has a Southern setting by a Southern author. I loved every second and I loved every single word. 


Where Things Come Back is the perfect blend of youth and grief and setting and discontent and even a little bit of suspense. It is realistic and contemporary and coming-of-age. There are swear words and drugs, and there is sex and talk of religion. There are so many great characters and places in this book. There are alternating chapters with alternating stories that had me wondering what strange trip I was on, seriously. And I could not believe how well everything came together in the end, seriously.

Cullen Witter is an absolutely fantastic leading male character in a YA Contemporary! For those of you who love those great leading males, HERE YOU GO. Cullen’s brother Gabriel is also a fantastic male character, although for different reasons. They both are so true to life, so believable, and so well-written. So very well-written.

While this book has a ton of great literary book-things about it – plot, language, setting, etc. – there are a ton of “other” things about it too. My personal favorite of all of the details is the song lyrics thrown here and there, because of course I love all of the bands that were chosen.* I also love the way Cullen feels about his town – about the actual living of the small-town life in his Southern town, and feeling like he’ll probably never get out of there. I love how all of the characters interact, like people actually do interact in real life. I love how Cullen sulks and has a bad attitude sometimes, like young boys (and girls) really and truly do. I am madly in love with the cover and title page. And there are so many great quotes, so many – I have little green sticky notes all in my book and quotes all over my quote notebook, even sideways in the margins.

I’m not even gonna show you my notebook.
It’s a mess!
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. When I decided to do YA Contemporary Month along with Evie and Bonnie, I knew with certainty that this book had to be my Day One. 


Where Things Come Back will appeal to fans of:

YA Contemporary
Male Leading Character!
Brilliant Language with Great Dialogue
Character-Driven Plot
Awesome Setting
Award-Winning Books

Basically, everything in this book is fantastic.

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley
is currently available for purchase.

For additional, more articulate reviews:
Ginger @ GReads!
Jacinda @ The Reading Housewives
Lisa @ Lisa is Busy Nerding

*I’m holding out for Freelance Whales to make an appearance in the next book. I’m lookin’ at you, John Corey Whaley. 


Is Where Things Come Back in your to-read pile? 

Don’t you LOVE it when a male leading character
is well-written, especially in YA Contemporary? 


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


44 responses to “…On Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

  1. Christina K.

    This sounds like such an incredible read! I love how the premise is unique and the characters so likable. Both guys sound like my new book guys:)

    Thanks so much for this review and for shining a light on this great read:)

    • Kat it's SO GOOD + award-winning + Southern (which I love) + it has book club potential (and I think there may be discussion questions on Corey's website). It's a great, great book. I can't recommend it highly enough!

  2. WOW, Asheley! How did I miss the buzz?! Seriously, I guess I am not on Twitter nearly enough to catch everything that's going on in the Twitterlandia/Blogosphere, cause I totally had no idea about this book until I read your glowing review! And I am just so happy that you're doing the contemporary month with us, cause I always learn about great new books on here, and clearly I have so much to learn! Thank you for your eloquent review, I'm glad you didn't cry (I know how scared you are of sad, emotional books!), and I'm so thrilled to hear that you loved every single page of this book. I need to get it. NOW! 😀

  3. I'm so glad to read your reactions to this one! I haven't read it yet, but like you, I love the cover and have heard wonderful things, and was so happy when it won the Printz, but also like you I am afraid of emotions! I often shy away from 'emotional' contemps, because they're so heavy, and I don't like crying, but then if I don't cry I feel like something's wrong with me. Knowing you didn't shed a tear makes me feel I won't be alone! =)

    • Bunbury this one is perfect for you, particularly with the Award Winning Reads Challenge. It is complex with alternating storylines and chapters, so you're kind of always on your toes and guessing. I loved Corey's language and how his words flowed so well. He writes a little bit like he talks, I think, and I loved that. Also, these characters are so charming and there is so much to love about each of them, even the ones that aren't necessarily the good guys. It was absolutely, completely deserving of these awards and I am so thrilled that I finally found my "brave" and read it. And no tears – but I did actually hug the book when I was done. No kidding.

    • Yay! After watching his interview, hearing that he writes like he talks has officially been the final convincing I needed to make an effort with this one.

  4. Oh My Wow! Lovely, lovely review! I also have heard fab things about this book and I'm go glad to heard you love it aswell! After reading your review I think I'll be reading this sooner than I thought. I am so interested, my interest is piqued! Thanks for the reminder that I need to promptly read this and soon! 🙂

  5. I'm going to be adding this to my TBR list. Most of all, I love that you mention Cullen's feelings of "never getting out of this small town" because, though I grew up in VERY rural Illinois (36 people in my graduating class), I can totally relate to feeling that way as a teenager. I wish there were more well-written YA male leads. Excellent review. 🙂

    • Thanks Randi! If you felt similarly, you will likely relate to Cullen Witter at least a little bit because he feels those feelings so fiercely and strongly, and he feels so bound by them, or at least I think so. That feeling was so well-written into this book, so well-done by Corey Whaley. He nailed the great YA male lead, perfectly.

  6. Ahhh, this sounds so GOOOOOOD! 🙂 I've heard some of the buzz but I think I must have missed most of it. I actually love it when a book makes me cry (is that weird? LOL) but I'll definitely go for this despite the fact that it didn't make you! I'm always on the lookout for YA with strong male leads since it makes a nice change sometimes. Thanks for the recommendation with this fantastic review!


    • Sonia, I think it did make some people cry, which was why I was so afraid of taking the plunge and reading it. I didn't, however, but that doesn't mean it wasn't full of plenty of emotion and feeling. I can't recommend it enough, really, and I hope you read it and love it like crazy!

  7. Amy

    So are you ready to hound me about ANOTHER book I need to read? Ready? Ok….GO!! I need to read this book. One of these days I need to take a picture of all the books I need to read and show people just exactly why I'm afraid my books will devour me in the night. But this book is on the list! Not being Southern, I probably have a different appreciation for books set in the south than you do. I love them because they're different, and because I've always been fascinated with living in the south. But I ESPECIALLY love small-town books because THAT shizz I know very well, being a small-town girl myself. Although I don't often have feelings of being stuck here. I kinda love it. But I get it.

    • I think I had so much pride for the Southern thing – I'm not sure if Corey meant for it to come thru as much as I felt it, but I felt it in the language and the dustiness of the town, and the smalltown-ness of it, and just the general way the people are. There's a slowness to this town that I can feel here where I am, which also made me love the book. Not every single part of the book takes place in the tiny, dusty, small town though so there are other parts to the story as well. It's just so, so good. I can't stress it enough. Everyone told me I'd love it and they were absolutely 100% correct. Now I'm telling everyone too.

  8. Yeah, I love male leading characters in YA, especially if they're well written, and I agree with everything you said about this book. I read it a year ago from galley & fell in love with it, so it's been on my to-buy list since then & I was really happy about the reward it got 🙂 I actually did shed a few tears, and I absolutely loved both Gabriel & Cullen 🙂

    • Oh I'm glad you read it and liked it too! Totally deserving, right?

      And while Cullen Witter gets most of the attention, I think Gabriel Witter is really great too. Very different from his brother but just as well-written. Such an interesting character, Gabriel. And the two brothers played off of each other well, and it made the events of the story so much more real and emotional, and I think that may be what made some people actually cry a bit.

      I DID hug the book when I was finished for a while and immediately, the second I finished, let Corey know on Twitter that I loved it so much. But I was glad that I didn't cry!

  9. +JMJ+

    Yes, I do love it when a male leading character is well written. Heck, I love it when there are male leading characters at all! If I come across one more YA novel with a female lead for whom the world lives or dies depending on which guy she chooses to be her boyfriend, I'll . . . I'll . . . well, I'll do something! =P

    I tend to stay away from "emotional" reads myself, but I don't mind crying too much. There are other books with sad twists or endings that don't make me cry: the sadness just sits like a huge stone over my heart. That feeling, I assure you, is much worse. Let's be happy for the catharsis of tears!

    Thanks for your review, Asheley. =)

    • Ha! I know with the male characters, right? There's a shortage of the good ones…

      I don't like being overly emotional at all, but I can deal with it when a book is as great as this one. The payoff is just huge and spectacular and I can't believe how well everything comes together in the end. I think it was that feeling of holding my breath while all of this stuff was going on in the story, and then as the end finally came together, I could breathe again. So, so good.

  10. I have this book, and it's just sitting on my shelf, collecting dust. Why? I don't know. Well, I'm going to remedy that, I'm making a pledge to myself to read it THIS WEEK. For real.

    oh, and I like Freelance Whales too Asheley.:)

    • Yay for the Whales!! Corey threw music all up in WTCB and it made me stop reading and sing for a minute because we share some of the same favorite singers. I know this because of how active he is on Twitter.

      I just can't say much more than I love this book so much and it completely deserved the awards. I AM HAVING A ROYAL FIT FOR AN AUDIOBOOK TO BE RECORDED, which I have already nagged this author about. As soon as it becomes available, I will be all over it because I can imagine I will love it as a re-read. (You know how I love to do the re-reads.) Let me know what you think of it when you read it!

  11. This is the second review I have read this morning of a new book with a male POV. Just natural for Corey I guess, but still an interesting change.

  12. Wow, this book sounds amazing! Now I can't wait to read it. 😀 I just love three-dimensional characters that feel real, and emotional books are my favorites. 😉 Not to mention that there's the author who, judging by the video interview, seems like a really likable guy…gosh, I hope I like this book, because it really does sound fantastic. I wonder if I'll recognize any of the song lyrics in it…?

    • These characters are so excellent and developed. So great for a debut!

      The song lyrics are a little bit on the obscure side, like Corey was saying in the video interview, but it just so happened that I was lucky to know them – it could be that if he decides to stick music lyrics in his next book I could shake my head and wonder where on earth these things come from!?!?

      It's a great book – I hope you'll love it!

    • Awesome, thank you! I hope so, too. 🙂 And hey, maybe I'll find some new music! I've got a few rather obscure artists on my iPod (they're not Top 40, that's for sure!) so I'm interested to see what songs he included. 🙂

  13. OMG it has been on my wishlist for the longest time!
    I don't know for how long I've been hinting everyone to PLEASE PLEASE buy me a copy of this book, you see a) I do not live in an english-speaking country so it's hard to get these books and b) I do not own a credit card.

    So there's no much I can do except sob on the inside.

  14. Oh my goodness! I want to read this book hardcore!! Seriously. Also, it makes me REALLY happy that you loved it so much AND that it's Contemporary! 😀 Seriously. Just plain warms my heart 🙂

    • Ash, this book is phenomenal. I just love it so much, like…I finished it and hugged it for so long. And then I tweeted to Corey that I loved it and then hugged it again. I'm sure you do that too sometimes, right?


      So, so good. I hope you get a chance to read it soon.

  15. What I can say is that Where Things Come Back is a must read book for everyone, both teens and adults. And that if you had to only read one book this month (I say month because there are some other fantastic books that came out this year and I'd hate to limit you), then it should be Where Things Come Back.

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