I've decided to read the finalists for the 2012 William A. Morris YA Debut Award! If you're new to the Morris, it "honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens" and celebrates "impressive new voices in young adult literature." I've requested the five finalists from the library and am hoping they all come in while I'm on winter break.
My first read is Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. This book was a bit of a mystery to me after reading the inside of the jacket. The jacket copy talks about lighthearted tales of adolescent love, the disappearance of a little brother, an extinct woodpecker, zombies and talking birds, without weaving any of those items into any kind of plot summary.
So I have to tell you that there are no real zombies. Real inside of the book, I mean. They're imaginary, both outside and inside the story. If you're looking for a good zombie story, this isn't it.
But it's definitely worth reading anyway. Here's what really happens: Cullen Witter's younger (and not so little) brother disappears around the same time that a college professor arrives in his small Arkansas town to search for signs of a rare woodpecker that is believed to be extinct. The whole town goes gaga over the possibility of the woodpecker being found there, and while they do care about the Witters and search for Gabriel (the brother), Cullen often feels like the stupid and probably non-existent woodpecker is getting too much attention.
Meanwhile, in alternate chapters, we hear about failed teenage missionary Benton Sage, and his college roommate Cabot Searcy. This is confusing, because there is NO explanation in the beginning for how this fits in with the Cullen Witter story. Rest assured, it does tie in eventually.
The story as a whole seems a bit haphazard at first, but things are revealed at a good pace, which frequently had me thinking "What the HECK?!" (in a good way). And at a couple of points, "OMG, I'm going to be sick." Again, in a good way.
The Cullen Witter portions of the book are told in first person, while the other portions are in third person. I enjoyed Cullen both as a character and as a voice; he seemed like an authentic teenager. Whaley has him simultaneously dealing with his brother's disappearance and dating and worrying about girls and sex, which sounds ridiculous, but it works.
Overall, this is a well-written and engaging novel. It's complex enough to be interesting, but easy enough to read in a day or so. I look forward to seeing more from John Corey Whaley.