by John Corey Whaley
Published: May 2012
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Realistic Fiction/YA Lit/Mystery
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (more like 3 1/2, but I gave it 4)
Winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Awards, this poignant and hilarious story of loss and redemption “explores the process of grief, second chances, and even the meaning of life.” Kirkus Reviews
In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and, most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.
As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.
This book surprised me. It was funny, tragic, melancholic, hopeful, and absurd. The thing I was most surprised about was the writing. One moment you would be reading in first person point-of-view, then all of a sudden you would be reading in third person point-of-view. I found it odd, but it made me pay more attention to those sections, which I feel might have been the point of them. They were a mix of what he was seeing, mixed with his hopes and imagination.
This book takes place in Lily, Arkansas, a little town in the middle of nowhere over the course of a summer. At the beginning of summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, his cousin overdoses, his town becomes obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker, and his younger brother Gabriel, goes missing. Though I wouldn’t believe that a story of loss could be both absurd and heartfelt, this book does a wonderful job of doing both.
At the same time, the story also follows a missionary in Africa who is searching for meaning of whatever he can find. These stories collide in a very surprising way—one that I was not expecting. For a while, I was wondering what on earth this missionary had to do with Cullen Witter’s story, but as I soon found out, he does play an important part.
I loved this book. It is filled with moments that made me laugh, and moments that made me sad. If you are a fan of John Green’s books, then you would love this book!