Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

What I loved about this book:

I was absolutely hooked in the first few lines.

The characters are authentic. Their interactions felt real. The different ways in which they reacted to their circumstances are completely and harrowingly plausible.

It is beautifully written. It's a jumble of past and present narrative interspersed with fantasies. At the same time as it is a story about loss and hope, it’s also full of humor. All this screams out at you from in the first paragraph.

The plot is complex with two story lines intersecting disastrously. In the first, Cullen Witter’s younger brother, Gabriel, disappeared from their small Arkansas town. The town has become obsessed with an extinct species of woodpecker that may have been sighted in the area. It seems like people care more about this than Gabriel's disappearance. In the second plot, Benton Sage heads off to Africa to become a missionary and fails. I understood that these two stories were going to come together – I just didn’t expect them to merge so horrifically.

What I hated about this book:

I am left bewildered and frustrated. I still have no idea if Gabriel survives and really comes back.

This is partly because of how the story is narrated. It is written, at least in part, by Cullen, who refers to a Dr. Webb, inferring that these events happened in the past. On top of this, Cullen’s fantasies are so integral to the story that it is often difficult to differentiate between them and reality.

I want a happy ending.

But I am left uncertain.

Is Gabriel’s return real or merely another of Cullen’s mirages?

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