In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. 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.
Meanwhile, the crisis of faith spawned by a young missionary’s disillusion in Africa prompts a frantic search for meaning that has far-reaching consequences. As distant as the two stories initially seem, they are woven together through masterful plotting and merge in a surprising and harrowing climax.
So, it's not like this is some tiny little book that needs a signal boost from me or anything. I mean, it won the Morris AND the Printz for goodness sake. But it's one that I put off reading for a long time for some reason, and once I finally got around to it, I was surprised at what I found. (The reason I finally broke down and pulled it off my shelf? I realized I'd ONLY read books by female authors this year so far. Figured I needed to mix it up a bit.)
My first reaction to this book was that it read very much like adult literary fiction. This isn't a good thing or a bad thing, it's just very different from the style I'm used to in YA today, so it was an interesting change. It has two alternating stories - one, told in the first person POV of Cullen Witter, a teen boy in a small town in Arkansas, who often talks about himself in the third person, and the other, told in third person, about Benton Sage, a young missionary who isn't really having the life-changing experience he had been hoping for. I don't want to talk too much about either one of these stories because it really was cool watching them unfold. (Strangely enough, I was drawn into Benton Sage's story right away, and it was Cullen's story that it took me longer to connect with. I say this is strange because Cullen's is the "main" story of the book, and he's the first person narrator of his part of the story. But he's not always the easiest to connect with.)
With the very literary style, I was worried that this book might go the route of my typical adult literary reading experience, which is spend a lot of time going off about how beautiful its own writing is without really making any progress with the story and leaving me all annoyed and frustrated. But I'm happy to report that this book didn't go that way at all. Gorgeous writing and satisfying story. As usual, adult literary fiction can take a lesson or two from YA.
Check out what the other Bookanistas are up to today:
Corrine Jackson is swept away by SUCH A RUSH
Christine Fonseca interviews THE LIES THAT BIND authors Lisa & Laura Roecker
Elana Johson celebrates THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass
Stasia Ward Kehoe parties with the Academy of American Poets on POEM IN YOUR POCKET DAY
Tracy Banghart delves into THE HOST (book & movie) by Stephenie Meyer
Katy Upperman discusses Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s USES FOR BOYS