Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .
In the summer before Cullen's senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone's eating "Lazarus burgers." But as absurd as the town's carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.
While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.
Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It's about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.
I am not sure why I was so interested in reading this book. I came across it when I was reading about this year's Printz Award winners. The weaving of two story lines-an extinct bird and a missing kid-seemed impossible to make. Whaley does it flawlessly. It starts in a morgue, which does not seem like a place for a hopeful story. It turns into a story about persistence and hope, as well as what it means to be in that weird place where you aren't an adult, but not quite a kid either.
I won't lie-I also like when Cullen starts daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse. Plus, when multiple story lines link together-it surprised me. I love books that take what you think is going to happen, and put it right in the trash. I really hope that this author doesn't end up as a "one-hit wonder". (Some mature content).