Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley: Except my Sunday School Bible Reference memories

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley
Atheneum: New York, 2011
ISBN 978-1-4424-133-7

In Lily, Arkansas, population 3,947, nothing much ever happens on a regular basis; people never seem to leave town permanently.  That is, until the population drops to 3946 when 17-year-old Cullen Witter’s 15-year-old brother Gabriel disappears, without a trace, leaving Cullen, his family, his best friend Lucas, and the town reeling.  The news of Gabriel’s disappearance, however, is soon overshadowed by the rumor that the Lazarus mockingbird woodpecker, believed extinct, has been spotted.  But Cullen, his family, and friends haven’t forgotten Gabriel; they are left with more questions than answers, and each struggling to cope in their own way.   For Cullen, this means girls, including his long-time crush, and a recently divorced young woman who has returned to town, and actively hating the Lazarus.  Two stories are seamlessly and satisfyingly woven together in this short, yet rich debut novel, filled with Biblical references, the frustration of growing up in a small town, and the well-crafted, realistic, anguish of inexplicable loss.  This multiple award-winning book is recommended for older teens, grades 10 and up.  
(Biblical confusion after the jump)

John Corey Whaley, according to his website,
is both an author AND a friend, you guys. 
This book has been enjoying a lot of buzz and big-time snaps, what with racking up both the Morris and the Printz for first-time author, the kind of certifiably adorable John Corey Whaley.  I heard about it in the fall, and finally got around to getting a copy purchased in January when it won the Printz, but hadn’t had the chance to crack into it myself until now.  I can’t say that it blew me away in the way some other things I’ve read this year have, but I will say that I do agree; Where Things Come Back is a really strong, and incredibly impressive, first effort.  And I really like the cover.  Like, really like it – well played, cover designer Gracy Grady McFerrin.  And honestly, since I’m being honest, I’m fairly certain I’m missing big pieces of it – like alllllll of the Biblical references. 
Por ejemplo, and this has SPOILER potential here, let’s look at Lazarus.  According to both the totally Truthy-with-a-capitol-T Wikipedia, and my totally unreliable memories from my comprehensive Sunday school education of things Catholic, Lazarus was the man raised from the dead by Hay-zeus himself.  Is Gabriel (the) Lazarus?  Did the Lazarus get named before it went extinct or did I do a really poor job of close reading?  And if Gabriel is not Gabriel, but Lazarus instead, is Ada Taylor Mary Magdalene?  AND, former Art History major here, is the name of the town, Lily, meant to be a religious symbol?  According to a deeply scholarly analysis of my fading  memories of specific religious symbols in art, and what a Google search of “religious symbolism of lily,” tells me (I am such an embarrassment to my field, I KNOW), the lily, in addition to symbolizing purity, coming from Hay-zeus sweat, and all that jazz, is emblematic of the Archangel Gabriel.  HMM.  HMM.   Am I reading into this way too much?  I still don’t know what it all means though!  What else am I missing out on that I could have learned if I hadn’t become a Sunday school dropout?!?!?  I need to find an English teacher, or maybe a priest/minister/preacher, or maybe even John Corey Whaley, to tell me what to think STAT.  Seriously, Mr. Whaley, author and friend: Get. at. me.  I have no idea what is going on the more I think about this.  SPOILER MOMENT OVER. 
In other fun fact news, I read in (I think, it was a while ago) SLJ that Whaley named his characters after towns in Arkansas.  I kind of dig it; the names all feel very authentically Southern.  As does the Lazarus/No. 3 burger – which made me even more excited about my upcoming trip back down south to North Carolina.  I’m coming for you, grits, biscuits, pimento cheese sandwiches, iced tea, bbq, country roads, Early Girl Eatery!  Anyways, this book is quick, is smart (evidently too supah smaht for moi), and I’d love to hear what other people thought. 

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