The inquiring minds over at YA Highway want to know, and I want to tell you: the best book I read in February was…
Funny story: on Saturday night, I drank a leeeeetle too much wine, and therefore I woke up at 3am with a headache. As I was waiting to fall back asleep, I started planning a blog post about Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. I mean, it was going to be epic, a review full of literary analysis and deep, critical thinking rather than just my usual “ooh this book was good blah blah blah” deal.
Of course, I’ve completely forgotten what I was going to say.
Lesson here, kids: Drink in moderation.
So, what should I say instead? I’ll just list five reasons I enjoyed this book instead.
1. It was like revisiting my childhood. There’s a reason that my books are primarily based in Arkansas. While I no longer live there, I did spend the entirety of my childhood and most of my early adulthood there. The town names (indeed, even the character names as many of them were named after Arkansas towns) were so familiar that it was like a sort of homecoming. It’s Central Arkansas, not my home of Northwest Arkansas, where book is set, but there was still so much familiarity for me. For example, I grew up near the White River, which flows all over the state, and it’s an important location in the book. There is a passing mention of someone who had died on the White River, and I know someone who died on the White River in almost the exact same way. So yeah, this book reminded me of home. I suppose if he had gotten everything wrong, this whole setting it in Arkansas thing would have pissed me off. He didn’t.
2. As previously established, I am a giant nerd. I remember a story on NPR about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, believed to be extinct for decades but possibly sighted in 2004. Confession time: I was in 4-H when I was little and did not one but TWO year-long projects on the birds of Arkansas. So this story caught my interest. And then Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about it. I love Sufjan Stevens. He’s twice appeared as #1 on my annual top ten albums list. He’s on my List. Seeing his Age of Adz tour helped me throw off a prolonged depression. Anyway, between being an bird nerd and NPR geek and Sufjan devotee, I was already a nerd about this woodpecker. And then I listened to the YALSA award ceremony in January, and this book won the freaking Printz Award. As they were talking about the book, I was like… wait. That all sounds very familiar! Turns out that I wasn’t the only NPR-and-Sufjan-loving person with a literary bent. So I immediately ordered Where Things Come Back.
3. Narrated by a guy! Don’t get me wrong, I love female narrators, especially in YA books. I’m still very much a teenager at heart, and I relate well to the young female point of view. But I love, love, love a well-written guy narrator. It’s like vacationing in another world. It’s one reason I’ve started reading more male YA authors – to understand, finally, the psyche of the teenage boy. Not like it’s a chore to read this book, or one of John Green’s, or anything by Markus Zusak (if he rewrote the phone book, I’d read it). Those guys can WRITE.
4. Multiple converging storylines. I won’t say much about this because I’d like you to read the book if you haven’t already. But there’s so much going on in this book! Whaley ties most of it together at the end, and he leaves the rest for you to decide for yourself. That was one of my favorite things about this novel – the fact that some things are left hanging. The reader is left to imagine how these things will turn out. It’s clearly intentional, and in my mind, it works really well. A lot of authors try this, and many are not as successful as Whaley is here.
5. He done wrote it good. So, this is where I try to reconstruct my drunken musings while my grasp of the English language fails me. It’s amazing how much more coherent you are at 3am with a splitting headache. Anyway, there’s religion, mysticism, and mystery throughout this book, and it’s almost taken for granted. Those things just exist in the world of Where Things Come Back. It’s kind of like magical realism without the actual magic. It’s a sense of things being larger than you – larger than these small-town characters and their town. Also, it’s quite a literary book, with multiple forms of narration and devices and symbolism and themes and everything, while still remaining a fun and entertaining read. Gah. I’m not doing a very good job of conveying my thoughts. So… yeah. There’s a lot going on in this book, many layers, and I’m left thinking about it days after I finished it.
So, in summary, yay Arkansas, yay birds, yay Where Things Come Back! John Corey Whaley, I am eagerly awaiting your next book.