First book I’ve read in the YALSA 2012 Best of the Best Reading Challenge! This one was the Printz winner and also a Morris honor recipient. Can you even imagine writing your first book and then having it be so awarded? I did really like it, but here’s my true confession- Was it the best book of the year? I’m not so sure. It was really well written, though, employing one of my most admired and favorite techniques in writing-a story that is not told completely linearly, but structured in such a way that when you get to the end it all comes together beautifully. And the journey to get to the end is good, too-it’s not like you’re just waiting to get to the end (though indeed, I couldn’t wait to see how it would work out and I had a great deal of worry that it would have an ending I was unhappy with.)
Cullen Witter is at the center of the story. He has a younger brother, Gabriel, who he’s actually pretty good friends with. His other friend is Lucas Cader. They live in the small town of Lily, Arkansas. The story is a jumble of things happening-Gabriel mysteriously vanishes, a man moves to town claiming to have seen the Lazarus bird (a woodpecker believed to have been extinct), the town goes Lazarus crazy, Cullen has the chance to date a girl whose past boyfriends have all died, and then he has the chance to date another girl, Alma. Then we have another parallel story involving Benton Sage-a young Christian missionary who fails at that and goes to college, where his roommate, Cabot Searcy (aren’t these names fantastic??) becomes obsessed with some of Benton’s writings and the Book of Enoch-a book of the Ethiopian Christian Bible. It’s crazy how all these things fit together, but they do. Cullen is a likable guy, and his friend Lucas even more so. They believe the Lazarus guy is a total fake, but at the same time Cullen does hope that things that have been believed lost will eventually come back. The reader will join Cullen in that hope.