I picked up Where Things Come Back by John Corley Whaley because it is my daughter's favorite book of all time, and she's been urging me to read it for a while now. And while I may not have loved it as much as she does, I was suitably impressed with the unique story that merges several story lines very well. I'll explain my biggest issue in a bit.
Basically, Where Things Come Back focuses on a summer in Lily, Arkansas, when Cullen Witter's younger brother Gabriel goes missing at the same time as the town goes a little crazy over the sighting of a woodpecker long thought extinct. Cullen's a pretty typical seventeen year old, obsessed with Ada Taylor and absolutely crushed when Gabriel disappears without a trace. As his family is blind sided, the town comes under the spell of a man claiming to have seen the woodpecker, thus causing almost everyone to be on the lookout for the elusive bird. Cullen is lucky to have a friend who is extremely supportive but he's at a loss. The fact that his cousin has just overdosed and his love life is complicated by a girl he's slept with and a girl he wants just muddies the situation. The essential question is how do you go on when nothing is the same?
Meanwhile, intwined through Cullen's story is first the story of Benton Sage, a young man who is a missionary trying to live up to his family's expectations. When he goes off to college, he becomes obsessed with a missing book of the Bible, and it's this obsession that transfers this story line to Cabot Searcy, Benton's roommate. Cabot is determined to discover the meaning behind the missing book. Somehow, these very diverse story lines work to fuel the disappearance of Gabriel and Cullen's summer of discovery.
The language in the book is rich and riveting, and Cullen is a genuine story teller, often able to look beyond himself to describe the action as he feels others see it. I found myself caught up in the big mystery of Gabriel but less so in the secondary stories of Benton and Cabot. Possible spoilers.....
While I thought the way the stories diverged was quite inventive, I am not a fan of how many threads were left dangling at the conclusion. I've discussed the ending with my daughter, who found it hopeful and beautiful, but I like more definitive information in a mystery as big as this one. I have used my imagination to fill in the blanks, and I suppose that is how the author intended for us to read it. Still, it's a sore spot for this reader.
Overall, however, this book is definitely well written and very good; I race through it and feel as though I need to read it again to catch all the subtle nuances. I can see why it's my daughter's favorite, and with my own minor issues, it's definitely one of the best reads I've had all summer.