Monday, June 20, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley

Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Adults, 2012. Print. 

Summary: Where Things Come Back is an intertwined story that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page, where they must learn if things truly come back. Cullen Witter is spending the summer before his senior year of high school in his small Arkansas town, but everything is far from normal. His cousin has just overdosed and he has had to identify the body, his Aunt Julia is not coping, his town is suddenly obsessed with a woodpecker that is supposed to be extinct, and his younger brother Gabriel has vanished out of thin air, it seems. Cullen finds it difficult to hold himself together while everyone else is falling apart. Another part of the story centers around Brenton Sage, a young missionary who is confused about his true calling, which leads him to the Book of Enoch. After a tragic event, his roommate finds his journal and begins trying to solve a puzzle it seems that Brenton has left behind. Their lives collide in an unexpected way in this novel that was awarded both a Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris award. 

Critical Analysis: 

“We let them help because they needed it, not us. We didn't let them help us because we needed it, we let them help us because inside of humans is this thing, this unnamed need to feel as if we are useful in the world. To feel as if we have something significant to contribute."---Cullen Witter 

This novel is one that will certainly keep the reader thinking from beginning to end. One of the initial thoughts that I had is that this novel is definitely better suited for the upper teen years. My middle school students would certainly not find this book in their library as it does have a fair amount of profanity, sexual content, and more mature characters. Despite those things, this novel can teach valuable lessons to teenagers. It is not simply about a boy who has a cousin that overdosed and a brother that is missing. He is a young man that must figure out who he is, and who he wants to be, when the world is crumbling all around him. Does he want to hide and not deal with it? Or does he stand up and face things head on? These are decisions that our students have to make, and so it is something that they can relate to in the novel. 

One of the greatest aspects of this novel is its ability to intertwine two stories that seem very different at the beginning of the novel. Whaley did a wonderful job of weaving the stories together, and also altering time in a way that benefited his writing. Sometimes the writing was the current time for the characters, and sometimes it was a flashback or flash forward. The reader could not be aware of these jumps completely until they continued to read, and then it all began to make more sense and weave together. 

There were several times throughout this novel that I asked myself, "Why does this matter in the story?" An extinct woodpecker? How could this possibly come into play and play into the theme of the novel? It turns out, Whaley knew what he was doing throughout this whole novel, and weaved a wonderful theme and plot together to make an award winning novel. It is certainly a book that young adults could read and learn a great deal from. 

Creative Activity: An interesting activity to do with this novel would be something that focused on plot. So often students think that plot is linear and simply follows the same steps in order every time, but they must learn that plot can be diverse and different for every book. The climax may not always occur in the middle of the novel. Instead, it may take place at the beginning and then the story may flashback. I believe the best way to teach this lesson would be to have the students work in groups to fill in a large, laminated plot diagram. They could use dry-erase markers to fill in the information through the book, noting when it may occur through a flashback or glimpse into the future using page numbers and text evidence. 

Related Resources:
1. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King - this novel is a related resource as the conflict and theme are very similar to the reviewed book. The protagonist has lost a family member, and must cope while the rest of his family falls apart with grief. He must deal with his feelings and move on to find himself. 
2. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall - this novel is one written in verse, which adds an interesting twist. The protagonist, however, is going through difficult things as well. Her mother is suffering from cancer, so she must play the adult in the household while everyone else comes to terms with the illness. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. Where Things Come Back, 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. Retrieved from

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