Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I picked up this novel at ALA 2012 because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. I forced myself to read through to the end because it won the Printz and Morris Awards. As I read, I kept waiting to understand why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards. I read the final page, never understanding why it won the Printz and the Morris Awards.

The three literary components that this novel struggled with were show-not-tell, ambiguity, and characterization. The lack of development in all of these areas caused the plotline to fall flat.

Show-Not-Tell: Rule #1 of creative writing: show-not-tell.  Almost the entire story was a summary of events and people, robbing the reader of descriptive writing that connected her to the novel.  What little dialogue and description that was present was so inconsequential that it didn’t add anything to the plot or characterization.

Ambiguity: There was too much poorly explained randomness that the author tried to pull together in a “twist” at the end. Unfortunately, the twist was forced, and the entire build-up was poorly executed. For one, there was no natural flow. For another, it was completely unbelievable and far-fetched. Maybe the awkwardness was due to the author’s attempts to leave not-so-subtle hints throughout the story so that it would all “come together” in the end. I mean, I get what the author was trying to do. I really do. I could see it a mile away. Sadly, it didn’t work.

Characterization: There was none. For example, the majority of the novel was about Gabriel’s disappearance; however, the reader never got to know Gabriel enough to care. In fact, because of all of the summaries, the reader never adequately got to know any of the characters. **SPOILER**There was a moment of sadness when Benton committed suicide, but that quickly gave way to the realization that he was simply the catalyst for the roommate to spiral into madness.**  Again, show-not-tell. Make the reader care.

Too many loose ends and too little descriptive writing left this novel a disappointment. I know that this novel won the Printz and Morris Awards; however, those awards are based upon the opinions of 11 Printz Committee members and 12 William C. Morris committee members – hardly the majority of readers. As I’ve learned throughout my professional career, just because something wins awards doesn’t mean that it’s good. The reality is that this novel is disjointed and poorly developed, and I suggest readers find something else. 

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