Author: John Corey Whaley
My Rating: 3/5
Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .
"In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.
While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.
Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances."
Going into this book, I had high expectations (MORRIS! PRINTZ!), unfortunately, the story let me down. Maybe if I didn't read it with the intent of gaining so much from it, I would've been able to enjoy it better.
The story is, just like its Goodreads summary, long. I appreciate the tranquil (yet underlying with angst) atmosphere the author tries to create, and I do think in this aspect it's quite successful. The unsettling tension and anxieties gave me the sense that something was sure going to happen, something big and terrible and destructive. However, this something never quite happened, not for me at least. The story is filled with heavy themes such as family problems, religious issues, etc. However I never found the narration engrossing enough to keep me going.
I found the frequent sentence structure of "When one is...." in this book particularly off-putting. Since the story was told in first person, this sentence structure seemed to take me out of the POV, which didn't work very well. In addition, I wasn't a fan of the heaviness on religious issues. Just personal opinions, though.
I read this book over Thanksgiving break, when I ran out of books to read. Quite unfortunately, it also had to fill the big shoes of Looking For Alaska, since I read that one shortly before starting this book. Overall, I would recommend it if you are just looking for something to read. However, bear in mind that this is not a casual read--it does deal with some heavy issues.