Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley just won the 2012 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. And might I add…deservedly so. This story follows 17 year old Cullen Witter through a surreal summer complete with a missing brother, the reappearance of an extinct bird, and a zombie-filled imagination. The cast of characters is at times helpful and hilarious, at other times depressing as hell. The title denotes the theme of the book, that no matter how far away you might get (even dead, like the woodpecker was suspected of being) you always come back to Lily, Arkansas. Education, romance, nor death could keep Lilians from coming back, for better or worse.
Anyone who has lived in a small town knows the feeling. “I’ll never get out of here,” or “Once I’m gone, I’m never coming back!” And anyone who has ever uttered those words knows that, more often than not, you don’t, and you do, respectively. Urbanites will likely not ‘get’ this aspect of the book, but I hope that doesn’t keep them from learning from it.
I loved getting to know Cullen, Lucas, and Gabriel, even though it was only for a summer. I know we would have been friends had I lived in Whaley’s fictitious Lily, Arkansas as a teen. I would have swam in the lake, watched movies at the drive-in, and discussed the curse of Ada Taylor’s boyfriends. I recommend this book to anyone from a small town, anyone who ever felt trapped, anyone who ever felt scared, anyone who ever loved their family (despite their faults). This was a wonderfully written book, and one that deserved to win the Printz Award. (Disclaimer: I have not read every single YA book published in the year 2011, removing some validity from my previous statement.)
Upcoming reviews: The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder, and An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer (received as a free ARC from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer group)