1. So. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley takes place in Lily, Arkansas, but it could take place in Nowhere, Virginia, as well, a place I am well acquainted with. It takes place in a small town the same way that my life took place in a small town — not in a surface way, not in a Hollywood way, but in a way that touches every bit of your life. Not good or bad, really, just . . . grit and dust and gross gas stations and lots of church. I appreciate that it feels effortlessly real, not like Whaley is trying to convince me that it’s real. It just is what it is.
2. This book is about a guy sighting an extinct species of woodpecker in Lily, Arkansas. Actually, it’s not. That is there, but it’s subtext and it’s delightful. The reappearance of the Lazarus woodpecker stands for everything that Lily, Arkansas needs and everything that Lily, Arkansas wants. Well done, Book.
3. This book is actually about Cullen Witter and the day his brother Gabriel goes missing. I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too. Whatever. I’m not normally a terrible person — okay, that’s a lie, I am a terrible, jaded person — but I really didn’t care about Gabriel’s fate when I opened this book. I was not really in the mood to read a quiet book about a boy coping with his brother’s disappearance. In fact, before picking it up, I informed one of my friends that all I wanted to do was read a book about helicopters, guns, and magic and I didn’t have a book that fit that description in my house, so I guessed I’d just read this one. This book had such an uphill climb in winning my affection. Even when it made me laugh in the first two chapters, I resented it. “How dare you make me laugh, quiet book? Do you have any helicopters? Any guns? Any magic? No? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT. Shut up!” The book did not shut up. And it turned out, I didn’t need any helicopters or guns or even any magic.
4. There are weird chapters from other people’s points of view. Again, I began my dialogue with the book. “Book, why are you telling me these things? Aren’t we supposed to be in Arkansas right now? Shouldn’t we be going home now?” I am here to promise you that those chapters not only eventually make sense, but also dovetail so delightfully with the main text that I was left saying only “well played, Book. Well played.”
5. It doesn’t really matter what this book is about. It’s a good book about a good kid and it’s a good story told remarkably well. In the last third, I thought there was no way that Whaley could really finish this in some way that I’d both believe and like, and . . . he did. So. Well played, Book. Well played.