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In this darkly humorous debut, Whaley weaves two stories into a taut and well-constructed thriller. Acerbic 17-year-old aspiring writer Cullen Witter narrates the first, bemoaning the tedium of smalltown life ("Living in Lily, Arkansas, is sometimes like living in the land that time forgot"), until the Lazarus woodpecker, thought to be extinct, allegedly reappears, and his 15-year-old brother, Gabriel, goes missing. The alternating story line, told in an ominous third-person voice, begins with the story of Benton Sage-a failed teenage missionary, who leaves Ethiopia for the University of Atlanta-but it soon veers in unexpected directions as the action converges on the town of Lily. Vulnerability balances Cullen's arch sarcasm, and the maelstrom of media attention lavished on the woodpecker offers an element of the absurd, especially when juxtaposed against the mystery of Gabriel's disappearance. The portentous tone and flat affect of Whaley's writing is well-suited to the story's religious themes and symbolism (Gabriel, the Lazarus woodpecker, the apocryphal Book of Enoch), as Whaley gradually brings the story's many threads together in a disturbing, heartbreaking finale that retains a touch of hope. Ages 14-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
An answer to complaints about simplistic YA problem fiction, this debut novel, set in Lily, Arkansas, takes on the whole small town with alternating viewpoints, beginning with the first-person narrative of Cullen, 17, and moving on to a huge cast of friends, enemies, family members, lovers, and neighbors. In a parallel plotline, Benton, 18, fails as a missionary in Ethiopia ( passing out food, water, and Christ ) and, after returning to college in the U.S., commits suicide, setting off a chain of interconnected, unexpected events. What will hold readers most is the moving story of Cullen's beloved younger brother, who suddenly goes missing, leading to mystery, heartbreak, and an astonishing resolution on the very last page. Whaley's numerous themes range from religion to Internet technology to the environment, and a wry subplot about the so-called sighting of a long-extinct Lazarus woodpecker brings levity, as Lily's residents try to capitalize on the new tourist trade with creations such as th. Lazarus burger. An intriguing, memorable offering teens will want to discuss.--Rochman, Haze. Copyright 2010 Booklist
School Library Journal
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Gr 8 Up-Cullen Witter, 17, lives in dull, dreary Lily, AR. He is desperate to escape his small town but is fearful that, like so many others, he'll never do so. His world is turned upside down by a flurry of activity and interest that the sighting of a supposedly extinct Lazarus woodpecker brings to his town, by the devastating and unexplained disappearance of his 15-year-old brother, and the death of his drug-addicted cousin. Simultaneously, Benton Sage, a young missionary, jumps to his death while searching for the meaning of his life. The lives of Cullen and Benton's roommate at the University of Atlanta, Cabot Searcy, collide and meld into one well-crafted narrative; however, it will take patience on the part of readers to find out how the stories and characters are connected. The powerful plot elements allow readers to have empathy for the Witter family and understand their painful ordeal. The characters' reactions are palpable as their grief deepens and yet they continue to hope for Gabriel's return. Cullen is an eloquent, thoughtful narrator, and, solemn as it is, the book is not without humor. The pacing is deliberate, but the ending is worth the wait, making a promising statement about faith and taking one day at a time: "We don't have to be anxious about everything. We can just be. We can anticipate that the day will probably have some good moments and a few bad ones, and then we deal with it."-Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.