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Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

in a sentence or so: A teenage boy goes missing. A young missionary fails. A town obsesses over a bird. A common thread binds them all, though it may not be the one you expect.

Cullen and Gabriel Witter live in the small town of Lily, Arkansas. While they agree that this town doesn't hold much promise for anyone, the two brilliant minds experience life in very different ways. Where Cullen is bitter, jaded, and negative, Gabriel is patient, understanding, and hopeful. When the town works itself into a frenzy over a mysterious bird, the Witter brothers agree to scoff at the outlandishness of the claim. Then Gabriel goes missing.

Benton Sage has always known exactly what to do with his life. He is called to be a Christian missionary. The problem is, he sucks at it. At least, as far as he can tell. Defeated, he gives up and heads home...but not before learning about a little known book of the Bible that forever changes his worldview. When one's worldview changes, it tends to ripple out and seep into the lives one may not have intended.

After I finished reading, I felt like my heart had been hit - repeatedly - with a meat mallet. The first strike comes from Cullen. This kid is so jaded and angsty but has SO much potential. The second strike came from Gabriel (who felt like a Cullen 2.0) because his hope and faithfulness in humanity is called into question when he goes missing. The third - and hardest - strike came with Benton. There is nothing quite so awful as having your heart completely and totally set on something, feeling it's what you're meant to do forever and ever amen, and then you don't. Loss of purpose is one of the hardest losses to bear.

The hits just kept on coming. The grief, the wondering, the anxiety, and the reality that life will continue on in some way, shape, or form. Amid all the heaviness of grief and fear of what happened to Gabriel, the woodpecker that the town was obsessed over, perhaps at the expense of searching for Gabriel Witter, was a great balance of absurdity with social commentary.

The book wraps up enough without being too much. My stomach fell through to the floor several times, but none so hard as the final page. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Books that deal with grief and coming-of-age and worldviews stick to my ribs and wear me the hell out.

That is precisely why they are my favorite.

fix er up: It took me a long time to like Cullen. And even to say that I like him by the end is probably stretching it a bit. Do I respect him? Oh good grief, yes. But as I stated earlier, his negativity was a lot to handle.

fave quote: Okay, I'm going to cheat here and take an entire passage. There is a moment when Cullen has this waking dream where his family are all gathered around a table. It borders on emotional breakdown, packs some serious metaphors, and in it's own bizarre and fantastic way shows the rare manifestation of hope that Cullen has for his brother's life.

Title: Where Things Come Back
Author: John Corey Whaley
Publishing Info: 2011 Atheneum Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Coming of Age, Family

[ftc notice: I borrowed a copy of this book from Ginger at GReads! I was not compensated in any way for this review. Thanks, G!]

Lisa is a gamer, crafter, fangirl, mother, wife and unabashed nerd who is pretty ridiculous and it's best you know that up front. When she's not binge watching Netflix or crafting into the wee hours of the night, you can find her spending a lot of her time on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. You summed this up SO NICELY. I know we've discussed in length our thoughts on this book, but I loved reading about yours once again.

    5am is for lovers and lawn ornaments ;)

  2. I got a certain something in the mail yesterday when I came home from a certain SOMEONE...which means I will be reading this VERY VERY soon! xoxo to you and to G!

  3. Word, it is always hard to love a negative character. I got to like Cullen, but Gabriel was the true star of Where Things Come Back for me. And oh my goodness, the writing. I had my copy dog eared so many times. However this was my favorite quote:
    "You can only act like a jerk so many times before people stop listening to you. Gabriel broke me of this habit one night after I made fun of a couple leaving a movie theater. “You act like you hate everyone. It must be exhausting.” And, having no response, I decided he was right.”"

    Because it is absolutely true and something I relate to, being that I hate everyone (notreally) but yeah, true words right there.

  4. i am SO SCARED of this book. the more i read about it, the more i FEAR IT.

    because of things like this: "After I finished reading, I felt like my heart had been hit - repeatedly - with a meat mallet."

    y'all know how much i'm afraid of the contemps.

    oh my gosh. i HAVE to read it, but i'm scared to death about it. Lisa, you know how emotional i get.

  5. Ginger - I wish there were a way to have interactive reviews on the blog. Instead, I shall have to do with chatting YOU up every single time. :)
    Anna - ENJOY
    April - YES. That quote is exactly true. That must be exhausting for Cullen. I know it is for me when I sip on the haterade.
    Ash - Embrace the fear. You will regret nothing.

  6. I am so intrigued by this book. it is not one i would normally be drawn to, but all the buzz in addition to your review has me sold!


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