Book summary: Do you remember the first dead body you ever saw? How about your first date with a divorced woman? Or the first glimpse of a formerly-extinct (or not) woodpecker? These are a few of the events that take place in the background of the primary story of Cullen and the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. In the far background is also the story of a failed missionary and his suicide, which sets in motion the real event that consumes Cullen’s life and overshadows his existence. Where Things Come Back offers a glimpse at the mundane parts of an average life, the parts that happen even in the midst of unthinkable tragedy.
My impressions: Any book that starts with a trip to the morgue is probably going to get your attention. But what kept me glued to the book was Whaley’s excellent way of describing life going on after tragedy (not the tragedy that prompted the trip to the morgue, by the way), but then getting punched by grief, anger, and anxiety. Grief really is like that – you think you’re getting over it, then BAM! it hits you out of nowhere, maybe because of a sound, or a smell, or just the way a cloud looks in the sky. This book also has a parallel story, which ends up being incredibly important, and Whaley is able to keep you interested in that story, without giving a hint as to why it’s important (until it is).
Citation: Whaley, J. C. (2011). Where Things Come Back. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Professional review: From a School Library Journal review:
…Where Things Come Back starts in a morgue, with seventeen year old Cullen identifying the body of his older cousin, Oslo. Cullen’s family and friends are introduced, a small circle of people in a small town. This is, at first, what Where Things Come Back seems to be about: small town boy coming of age. Strangely, another story is introduced, about a young man, Benton Sage, on a mission in Ethiopia a story that seems to have nothing to do with Cullen. On page 55, Where Things Come Back shifts: Cullen’s younger brother, Gabriel, disappears. It becomes a story of the loss of Gabriel, the search for him, but is also the story of how Cullen’s life goes on, because that is what happens. It is not just that the clocks don’t stop; it is that life is not so uncluttered that all else fades away and disappears along with the lost one. This is the first reason I love this book: Cullen’s life is full and messy and complicated. His reactions, his parents, are jagged and not linear…
Burns, L. (2011, December 26). A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy [Web log post] [Review of the book Where things come back, by J.C. Whaley]. Retrieved from http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/teacozy/2011/12/26/review-where-things-come-back/
Library uses: I feel like this book could be used as a teaching point about grief – if there had been a tragedy in a community, this book would be an excellent outlet for youth to understand that it’s okay not to be okay every day, that it’s okay to let life go on, that’s it’s okay to be angry and sad, and it’s okay to think about yourself, even as you grieve another.