Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

where things come back“When I asked him the meaning of life, Dr. Webb got very quiet and then told me that life has no one meaning, it only has whatever meaning each of us puts on our own life.  I’ll tell you now that I still don’t know the meaning of mine.  And Lucas Cader, with all his brains and talent, doesn’t know the meaning of his either.  But I’ll tell you the meaning of all this.  The meaning of some bird showing up and some boy disappearing and you knowing all about it.  The meaning of this was not to save you, but to warn you instead. To warn you of confusion and delusion and assumption.  To warn you of psychics and zombies and ghosts of your lost brother.  To warn you of Ada Taylor and her sympathy and mothers who wake you up with vacuums.  To warn you of two-foot-tall birds that say they can help, but never do.”

The woodpecker showed up  just about the time that Cullen Witter’s little brother disappeared.  The small Arkansas town sees the return of the long-thought-extinct woodpecker as the gift of salvation, hoping the excitement of the bird’s sighting will draw people in and revitalize the local economy.  Cullen is sick of the bird already, and wishes everyone would stop being so awkward around him since his brother’s disappearance.  He also wishes his mom would stop crying and listening to his brother’s old music and reading his books.  This summer, Cullen negotiates relationships with others, tries his best to take care of his grieving family, and searches for meaning in it all.

First of all, I love books that take teenagers seriously: the ones that validate young people by including them in the  exploration of beliefs and the full spectrum of emotions and experiences.  Grief?  Of course. Love?  Absolutely.  Fear of the unknown?  Everyone is afraid, I promise.  It is just that nobody talks about it openly, except in books like these, which is why they are so great! To me, not only do these books say that young people are fully able to participate in the human search for meaning, but they actually offer the vocabulary for expressing such ideas-tools to be used in real life.   Where Things Come Back is one of those books.

You’ll love it because Cullen is a great narrator: his elaborate daydreams include zombies, soundtracks, and miracles.  You’ll love being able to read all his thoughts, especially because he is such a complex character-portrayals of characters like this do a lot for breaking down stereotypes about young men and women.  And I think you’ll also love it because it makes you think about important things.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. Athenum: New York, 2011. 228 p.  Age 15 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you’d really like Looking for Alaska, which has the same setting, tone, and some similar plot elements.  If you liked the summer setting and the elements of religion, Pete Hautman’s Godless might be perfect for you!  If the mystery and small town setting was what grabbed you, try Shine by Lauren Myracle. If you want a book about missing loved ones, check out Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  

And one more! Remember when I talked about using book covers to help you pick books that were alike?  Check out John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s another meaning-book, with a lot of the same Big Questions.  But careful with that one-it’s heart-wrenching!

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Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

The indomitably hopeful one!

The girl of unyielding optimism!

The teen of merriment!

The fan favorite!

Your undisputed champion! 

‘Amber-Rock Star of Hope-Apple-TOOOOOOOOOON!'”

“Maybe I am a freak-but I’m one hopeful misfit, and you could be worse things in this world.  True? True.”

Amber Appleton lives on the school bus that her mom drives during the day.  They’ve been there ever since her mom’s latest boyfriend kicked them out of the house.  It gets pretty cold at night, and Amber gets scared when her mom heads out to bars and leaves her alone, but it’s not Amber’s style to get bummed out about her sad life.  She’s not like that.  Instead, she’s too busy singing and doing English lessons with the Korean Divas for Christ, standing up to the school board, kicking quarterback Lex in the shins just to “maintain the balance of power within the student body so that evil doesn’t get out of control”, duking it out in a weekly word-battle for hope with the Nietzsche-quoting Debbie Downer, Joan of Old, at the nursing home, and writing haikus about dogs for a Vietnam War veteran who slammed the door in her face once. She sasses the school principal and soothes herself to sleep with the handful of good memories of happy times with her mother.   That’s the kind of girl she is: sorta like a rock star.

Amber has a seemingly bottomless well of sincere enthusiasm and concern for those around her, spending her life cheering others on.  She forms friendships with the weakest and most vulnerable people in her community:  veterans, old men and women in a nursing home, Korean immigrants, students with special needs.  But it’s not out of a sense of duty, or with any thought for herself.  It’s because, as Amber puts it, “I dig lighting up people’s faces.”  However, when tragedy strikes, the aptly-named Princess of Hope needs the support of everyone in her community-and even that may not be enough to keep her going.

This is my new favorite book and the single best thing I’ve read to date.  That’s a really big statement, but I mean it!  It’s four in the morning now, and I’ve been agonizing over what quote to start out with, because I really hope you all will love this book as much as I do, and I needed to find the perfect starter!  You see, Amber is amazing.  She’s quirky, buoyant, and irrepressible-and she manages to be all of this without the slightest trace of Pollyanna saccharinity.  Because, honestly, all of that goodness could be pretty irritating to read about, but that’s not Amber Appleton at all.  She’s offbeat-smiling at people when she’s biking, doting over her dog (Thrice B), making kick-ass omelets, and her own silver prom dress- all the while freaking out about her alcoholic mother and living in a school bus.

This book champions sincerity and belief in a greater good, which is a pretty incredible take, considering the customary tone of books covering the heavy stuff, like alcoholism, violent crime, and homelessness. While the plot is original, and the characters are all interesting and multi-dimensional, it’s really Amber’s voice that brings the story to life.  I know you’re gonna love her!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://matthewquickwriter.com

Quick, Matthew. Sorta Like a Rock Star. New York: Little, Brown & Co, 2010. 355 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

All right, if you loved this one, you might want to try Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.  It has the same feeling to it!

Oh, I hope you love this book!