Author: John Corey Whaley
Release date: May 3, 2011
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Awards: Michael L. Printz Award Winner & William C. Morris YA Debut Award Winner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Complete honesty: At the start, I wasn't sure I'd like this novel, but as a delved deeper into Cullen's story I wanted to know more and hoped for the best in his life.
The story starts with an introduction to Cullen Witter that made me say, “Hmm…he’s used the term ‘ass-hat’ several times in the first couple pages; do I really want to read more about this kid?” But since I had picked it up because I was reading it for book club, I had to stick with it. I’m glad I did.
Cullen is as the teenage-boy protagonist is someone I had to get to know before I liked him. Our relationship started out rocky: with his vocabulary and his descriptions of people. However, over time, I came to like his reality: he dislikes his small-town lifestyle, but also accepts it as a part of who he is; he makes biting judgments about people in his town, but he’s often right about the heart of the person; he loves his family, oddities and all; and he has a foil in his friend, who keeps Cullen from hitting to low.
Now, for the plot: Cullen is telling his story about the town, the maybe-discovery of a thought-to-be extinct woodpecker, and his missing brother-Gabriel. At the same time, we are introduced to Benton Sage’s storyline. All Benton wants is to make his father happy; unfortunately, that will never happen. These dual storylines eventually collide, but that’s all I’m saying (except that you’ll be satisfied with how they come together).
The heart-tugger in this story is really Cullen’s missing brother. The whole time I read about Cullen and his life after his brother goes missing, I kept hoping that is brother would return/be found. I didn’t know whether to hope for a happy or sad ending. And that leads me to where I’m going to end this review: I loved the theme of hope vs. reality in this story. Let me share with you some of Cullen’s words (or more accurately Cullen’s therapist’s words): “When I asked him about the meaning of life, Dr. Webb got very quiet and then told me that life has no meaning, it only has whatever meaning each of us puts on our own life” (227). *roundhouse kick to the head to shake up my mind*