Where Things Come Back

WhereThingsComeBackWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Published: 5-3-11 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Get the book: Amazon, The Book Depository

In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

Meanwhile, the crisis of faith spawned by a young missionary’s disillusion in Africa prompts a frantic search for meaning that has far-reaching consequences. As distant as the two stories initially seem, they are woven together through masterful plotting and merge in a surprising and harrowing climax.



Design – Michael McCartney       Illustration – Joel Holland       Rating – 4/5

I love the strong, graphical design of this cover. The simple color scheme is attractive and reminds me of 2 covers: Wonder and The Fault in Our Stars. The lettering is strong but a bit quirky and I adore how perfectly the letter forms fit in the woodpecker silhouette. The negative space is nice, and I wish that the giant medals weren’t taking up so much of it. I understand that, from a marketing point of view, those humongous medals equal dollars, but as a book cover junkie I tend to dislike how they change covers. I also like that the tail of the bird trails off of the side of the cover, instead of being completely contained by the boundaries of the front cover. It strikes me as a well-thought out and memorable design. Except for those medals.



I feel like maybe I’m missing something with this book. It has a bunch of medals on the front, so clearly someone somewhere really enjoyed it. I just didn’t connect to Where Things Come Back at all. It was like watching a movie through a dirty window – I just felt so distant and uninterested, and confused. I kept waiting for things to come together – for that click in my brain that never happened.



  • Lucas – Cullen’s best friend, Lucas, is a more dynamic character than Cullen himself is. Lucas, because he shows so much more emotion, seems to take Gabriel’s disappearance harder than his friend. When Lucas isn’t around, Cullen spends his time with girls he barely seems to care about – seeking sex in one instance because he’s “bored.” Lucas is much more interesting because, rather than trying to bury his sadness with other emotions, he lets his anger run its course.

didn't love


  • confusing – At 1st, Where Things Come Back alternates between Cullen’s POV, as he deals with the disappearance of his younger brother, and Benton Sage’s POV, as he goes on a missions trip and experiences a crisis of faith. Cullen and Benton are worlds apart, and as things come closer together to connect their lives, it stays confusing until nearly the very end. A book half full of a character who doesn’t make sense to the story until it’s too little too late contributes to the disconnect I felt.
  • girls – I was also confused by the girls of Lily, Arkansas – Ada Taylor and Alma Ember. To begin with, their names are so similar, and it doesn’t help that neither girl is given a personality. They’re cardboard cutouts, stand-ins used to drive a thin plot and then discarded. I had to flip back when either Ada or Alma was mentioned to see which girl was associated with who and why it mattered. And that’s just the thing – Ada and Alma only matter because of the males they are connected to and not because of who they are as people. they aren’t full-fledged characters. They are merely names on the page.
  • disconnect – I couldn’t connect to Where Things Come Back. The different narrators were confusing because the reader has no idea how they relate to one another, and the main narrator, Cullen, lacks emotion. Cullen just seems so removed from everything – he’s upset about Gabriel of course, but he doesn’t show it like Lucas does. I struggled to care about Cullen’s life but it’s so difficult to be interested when the character doesn’t give you anything to relate to.
  • Benton – I could completely cut Benton Sage’s POV out of Where Things Come Back and not feel like I missed anything. In fact, I think I would like to. Benton only connects to Cullen through Cabot, his short term college roommate. Cabot’s story is the one that matters, and while he gets his ideas and delusions from Benton, I would rather follow Cabot’s story from before he encountered Benton Sage. I don’t think that the origin of Benton’s beliefs is nearly as important as the effect of those beliefs on Cabot.



That’s what happened in Lily. People dreamed. People left. And they all came back. It was like Arkansas’s version of a black hole; noting could escape it.     – pg. 35

We stood in a field, one where trees had been clear-cut and what remained was nothing more than what looked like some sad, ancient war zone. The grass was mostly dead, the dirt had gone from brown to gray, and the one tree that did still stand was bare and leaning like a creature over a small child’s nightmare bed.    – pg. 115

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Acquired: bought (ebook)



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