What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a quirky, funny, dark, profoundly unsettling book that starts with a cousin's dead body and continues to include a suicide, sex (not explicit), a beloved brother's disappearance, religious mania, zombie movies, and frequent profanity. The writing is good enough that the American Library Association gave this debut novel by young Southern author Whaley two awards, but it's not sunshine and butterflies.
What's the story?
Normal dull life in Lily, AR, is thrown into chaos by the alleged sighting of a long-extinct woodpecker, bringing hordes of media, tourists, and local enterprise. Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter is dealing with this newfound chaos, a host of adolescent issues, and his ne'er-do-well cousin's death from an overdose when his younger brother inexplicably disappears and his family starts falling apart. Meanwhile, in another time and place, a young missionary has a crisis of faith that will have a fateful impact on these events. Intertwined with all this: Cullen's lively fantasy life, often involving zombies and the woodpecker; also obscure religious texts and song lyrics.
Is it any good?
The American Library Association awarded WHERE THINGS COME BACK both the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, and it's something of a critics' darling -- for good reason, as the quality of writing is well above that of most YA fiction. But it may be overly literary for some teens, who may wish the author would get on with the plot already. Parents may well blanch at the levels of profanity and violence, as well as the overall level of darkness. However, new author Whaley's ability to absolutely nail interesting aspects of human behavior makes it quite memorable.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about how the disappearance of a family member affects everyone else in the family. Do you agree with what Cullen says, that what people most want in that situation is to be treated normally?
Gabriel's disappearance gets hardly any attention from the police and the media because everyone's hysterical over woodpecker sightings and the influx of tourists into town. Do you think that would happen in real life?
Has your town ever had a fad that made it go completely silly?
What do you think about small-town life? Dead end, or a safe, comfortable place to be?