True story: when I finished this book, I was crying so hard that my cat jumped onto my bed and started licking the tears from my face. So, you know, fair warning. But don’t be afraid. Only John Green could take the story of two teenagers battling cancer and falling in love and turn it into such a stunning, joyful and believable novel. And if you don’t believe me, ask just about anyone else on staff.
This book will scare the heck out of you. It will make you want to delete your facebook account. And I don’t say this as a luddite—I have a smartphone, though I mostly use it to take pictures of puppies—but as someone who was genuinely shaken by this book’s eerily prescient description of technology literally taking over human bodies. There is so much to talk about in this book—our roles as consumers, the inescapability of the internet, and how technology alters our lives and what it forces us to give up. Harsh but not gloomy, with crackling dialogue and subtle, precise world-building.
I know that book groups might be hesitant to read a book that falls into the Young Adult genre, but truly I think any story that can depict childhood and coming of age in a way that can immerse both young and adult readers, is a story that is well worth discussion. In When Things Come Back 17 year-old Cullen narrates what happens when his small town suddenly becomes a hotspot after what was thought to be extinct woodpecker is spotted. Cullen is both impressed and mortified by his town's transformation—suddenly his peers are sporting woodpecker inspired haircuts and bird-watching becomes an ideal date. But then when his 15-year-old brother goes missing amidst the chaos, Cullen’s surprise turns to something more vigilant and shadowed. The gift of this YA novel (which was the winner of the coveted Michael Printz award) is the way that regret, surprise, and humor are all interweaved. Layered and remarkably unique, this novel calls to mind how ordinary and extraordinary are only a coin’s throw apart.