Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Things Come Back

So yesterday I was reading the Someday My Printz Will Come blog , which discussed potential Printz contenders. Among the comments was this one from Jennifer Hubert Swan:

Please don’t forget my favorite YA title of the year so far, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley!

I thought, “Oh dear.”

Then I read this suggestion from Stephanie Wilkes:

I second Jennifer with Corey Whaley’s Where Things Come Back!

And I thought “Oh dear, oh dear.”

Just below that, Lisa McMann chimed in:

And I third it!

“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

This might be one of those years -- one of those years when everyone is raving about a book that just leaves me cold. When I saw a sudden flurry of positive comments about this title, the way I did yesterday, it makes me think momentum is building. Will Where Things Come Back be a National Book Award nominee in just a few hours? The finalists will be announced just after noon on the radio and posted here. Will it wearing a shiny gold or silver Printz sticker come January?

I'm hoping not.

The protagonist of John Corey Whaley's novel is seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter, who finds it "very difficult to deal with the boredom brought on by living in Lily" -- Lily, Alabama, populartion 3,947. Actually, life in Lily may seem fairly hectic to the average reader, considering all that goes in this story -- including the death of Cullen's druggy cousin, rumors that Lily might harbor an extinct Lazarus woodpecker, and the sudden disappearance of Cullen's rather mystical younger brother Gabriel. The story of Gabriel's disappearance is related in alternate chapters that take place in Africa, as well as Georgia, and dip into such topics as missionary life, suicide, teenage marriage, and a missing book of the Bible. The story is busy and the characters remain frustratingly distant. (It doesn't help that narrator Cullen frequently goes off into third-person tangents, referring to himself as "one," as in: "When one enters the kitchen to find his mother, father, and best friend all seated in front of a stack of uneaten pancakes, he knows that something strange has happened.") And while sex is usually a Big Deal in the life of your average teenager, Cullen's blase attitude about not one, but two different sexual affairs is so offhand that the book feels more like an adult novel about teens, rather than a YA story written for teens. Though the complex plot is intriguing, the remote characterizations, many unfinished subplots, and cold storytelling may not appeal to the targeted teenage audience.

PRINTZ-WORTHY? Well, it's certainly different from most current YA novels, which alone may merit the book award consideration. But it's also a book that sacrifices everyday emotion for "high concepts" and "big ideas." If the Printz committee sways that way, it may stand a chance. But I won't be a happy camper.

What do YOU think?


  1. yes. def. it's also one of my favorite's from this year. And esp since the author was named a 5 under 35 from the National Book Award Committee. It's literary and different and really makes you think. This is actually at the top of my list for Printz books this year.

  2. We miss our Betty MacDonald fan club member Peter Sieruta so much.

    Peter is always in our hearts.


    Linde Lund