Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Please note that this is posted for our Mock Printz discussion and will have spoilers and pertinent plot points discussed.

First review here.

So this one is popping up a lot. Someday My Printz will Come just reviewed it and had some fairly substantial problems with the book.

I will freely admit that I loved this book. It really struck an emotional chord with me, which only deepened on my second read. I think it is extraordinary in every way. Maybe not flawless, but extraordinary nevertheless.

Cullen was such a strong character and I found him to be a compelling narrator. What I noticed my second time through was that his tendency to switch into third person was a way to disassociate himself from his painful emotions. His drifting into daydreams was a survival mechanism he employed during the most horrible summer of his life. On the second read, the switch from 1st to 3rd person narration wasn’t as jarring, in fact I could see it coming. It had a sort of pacing to it that I found I really enjoyed.

Plot wise, not a lot happens and so this is, by no means, a fast novel. It meanders a bit with asides that sometimes tie into the main story and sometimes do not. Characters appear only to disappear only to reappear later. We definitely don’t get resolutions for each character, but that is as it should be – this is truly Cullen’s story, his relationship to Ada (or Alma) is inconsequential once Gabriel returns. To me, these were people he was distracting himself with. That sounds cold and makes Cullen sound calculating, which is not what I mean at all. Just that the real story is with his brother Gabriel, with Lucas, with his parents. The fact that we don’t know what happened to Ada and Russell isn’t terribly important.

Someday My Printz Will Come also mentioned the similarities between Cullen and Holden and yes, many many similarities stand out, not least being his use of “ass-hat” which mirrors Holden’s “phonies.” These are both boys on the brink of a breakdown, both boys who are desperately searching for themselves. Cullen I think, is more than just a re-written Holden though (not that she suggested that at all). Now, I may be wrong (loooong time since I’ve read Catcher in the Rye) but it seemed like Cullen was more grounded in community than Holden. Part of what I loved about this book was how loving and supportive Cullen’s friends and family were. Frankly, it was refreshing. They were loving despite the difficulties they were having themselves. Everyone was breaking down in their own way and yet the love and support was evident and relied upon by everyone. Part of this could be because Cullen was telling this as a memoir of sorts (we certainly never meet Dr. Webb in these pages despite the fact that he is mentioned quite a bit and that his healing influence on Cullen is evident from the beginning).

I also loved how Cullen initially struggled with the pity and the gestures of his fellow townspeople. He didn’t want a free burger from the burger joint, but understood the humanity behind it and why someone might offer up a burger instead of a hug. People want to help, they’re just not sure how to do it. I thought that was beautiful and a wonderful perspective on life. I think one of the things I enjoyed about this book so much was that it was so full of tenderness without being schmaltzy or saccharine.

The weakest part of this book? Maybe Cabot Searcy. Why did he become so obsessed? Why did he start such an odd religious quest? To me it seemed obviously he was deeply affected by his friend’s suicide. However, I did see changes in him that began before Benton’s death (his refocus on school and studying mainly, but also his desire to change the world). After Benton’s death, I can see how he changed his focus to attempt to discover basically the meaning of life and the potential of humankind. I can see how after another setback (the death of his unborn child and the impending divorce from Alma) how Cabot suffered a psychotic break. He was devastated. That is a lot of things to happen to a person and Cabot was in a fragile state. Did I think the author reached in his motivations? Maybe? I mean, it was a bit much. In the end though I bought Cabot’s motivations, or at least they didn’t detract much from my enjoyment of the story.

It is the way in which the separate storylines come together which really pushes this book into the forefront for me. Not only are the stories full of small interconnected gems, but the author also pushes the story by making the time-lines disparate so that the interconnectedness is hidden from the reader. I thought it was fantastic.

I loved how the very last title that Cullen wrote is the title for the book and so although throughout his teens he only wrote titles we have the satisfaction of knowing that he completed a goal set in his teens. So touching and I loved that it tied the ending of the story back to its beginning.

Mock Printz Titles:

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys
(Patti's review)
Berlin Boxing Club - Robert Sharenow
(Patti's 1st review)
Blood Red Road - Moira Young
(Patti's 1st review)
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
(Joanna's review)
Divergent - Veronica Roth
(Patti's 1st review, 2nd review)
Everybody Loves the Ants - A.S. King
(Patti's 1st review)
Flesh and Blood so Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Legacy - Albert Marrin
Imaginary Girls - Nova Ren Suma
Where Things Come Back - John Corey Whaley

1 comment:

joanna said...

I agree, not flawless but extraordinary. I loved the relationship between Cullen and Gabriel. I thought Lucas and his girlfriend were also interesting, unique characters.

The second plot with Cabot and Benton isn't as cohesive as Cullen's, but it still contributes to making this one of the most interesting teen reads this year.