This was a story that stayed with me for some time after. It is an unusual story, with a lot of familiar elements thrown in at the same time.
At the outset, the main character Cullen, a seventeen year old kid living in Lily, Arkansas, is driven to help identify the body of his cousin. Cullen gives an idea of an inescapable small town and description of his parents and his brother Gabriel. Cullen admires his younger brother and his ability to rise above the tedium and boredom of Lily. Then he disappears at the start of a summer. The main part of the book takes place over that summer as Cullen tries to live his lefe while trying to find out what happened to his brother.
The parallel story to the main thread is an unusual one. It takes place over a broader time period, over a few years even, and begins with the sad story of a missionary, Benton Sage, who takes up a posting in Africa, hoping to spread the word of God to the masses.
These stories continue with no apparent connection for the majority of the book and come face to face right at the end. The main thread continues as we follow Cullen’s difficult summer and it is this thread which explores a mature teenager’s life and loves in small-town USA. The secondary story has a spiritual and even religious theme, which is intriguing and quite different for a YA book. It all comes to surprising and compelling conclusion. A subplot involving a rare woodpecker brought the religious theme a little too far and allegorical though, I thought.
This is a well-plotted novel. The author has shown real confidence in plotting a large narrative and pulling it off by the conclusion, with believable and well-developed characters throughout. An excellent read.