Before Everything Changed

Just as Cullen Witter is about to start his last year of high school, his boring, routine life in his small town becomes chaos. Suddenly, everything he’s used to and grown to except is taken away from him in the climax of John Corey Whaley‘s novel Where Things Come Back.  I created a collage as a way to demonstrate everything happening to Cullen to make his entire life be completely turned upside down like this, using the website Canva. The collage is below, and I explained everything underneath it.



*from left to right by rows, starting from the top left corner and ending at the bottom right

Row 1: these three pictures are meant to represent a few settings and places that Cullen is in that played a part in making all of the things that happened to Cullen happen and are important to him. 

Picture 1, Cullen’s small town of Lily, Arkansas: this is the entire setting of where everything happens in Cullen’s life, and why his life is so boring in the first place, before everything changed.

Picture 2, Cullen’s high school: because Cullen is still in high school and not an adult yet, his role in the story is very different. Also, all of his friends and his community is in high school.

Picture 3, the lake: this is where Cullen spends a lot of his free time with his best friend and/or his little brother, and where he goes to relax and gather his thoughts.

Row 2: the three images are each one of the three big things that happened to Cullen to prompt the big change in his life

Picture 4, Cullen’s cousin, Oslo’s, death: this is the very first big thing to happen to Cullen and the start of when his life began to change. The sudden death of Oslo from overdosing on drugs deeply affected Cullen’s family, in all kinds of ways , “What I felt was disgust and pity. I was sad for my aunt Julia, who could barely utter a sentence without bursting into tears…Mostly, though, I was sad for my brother” (Whaley 28).

Picture 5, the alleged return of an extinct woodpecker: this is the biggest thing to happen, and it doesn’t just affect Cullen, but also his entire town. With a supposed sighting of the extinct Lazarus woodpecker in their small town, everyone was extremely excited, “Two weeks into summer break was how long it took for everyone in town town to start talking about that damn woodpecker” (44). This was the main reason that Cullen’s entire town completely changed.

Picture 6, the disappearance of Cullen’s little brother, Gabriel: when Gabriel mysteriously disappeared suddenly, Cullen was impacted greatly. His little brother was probably the most important person in Cullen’s life, and all of a sudden he was gone without a trace. With all of this going on, Cullen pushed all of feelings down and kept trying to live life as normal, even though it would never be the same again.

Row 3: each of these pictures are a few effects from what happened in the second row. 

Picture 7, the press: when news of the extinct woodpecker’s return spread, everyone became obsessed with it. There was a “Mohawk-style cut with the tips of the standing hair died bright red” (69) invented in honor of the Lazarus woodpecker, a “huge wooden cutout of the Lazarus, which had replaced an old dogtrot cabin as the main attraction of the city park” (70), and stories about it all over local newspapers and television shows. This woodpecker had given Cullen’s town hope that there was something bigger than them, something worth being excited for.

Picture 8, Lazarus hamburger: this hamburger was another of the many cheap promotional products created just to make money off of the obsession over the Lazarus woodpecker, “The burger itself wasn’t made from woodpeckers, of course, but instead was a quarter pound of beef with ketchup, mayonnaise, and barbecue sauce. The red, the white, and the dark brown were supposed to remind one of the bird but only reminded me of ordering the same burger when it was called the Number Three” (51).

Picture 9, Cullen’s family: besides Cullen’s life changing, his family, and more specifically his parents, were affected by those three things too. Since they live in the same town as him, they were caught up in the obsession over the extinct woodpecker as well, and in fact, his aunt was the one who came up with the haircut modeled after the Lazarus woodpecker. His parents were also affected by the death of Cullen’s cousin, and the disappearance of Cullen’s brother and his parent’s youngest child, “In the two weeks following my brother’s vanishing off the face of the Earth, my parents seemed to be closer than ever. My dad had stayed at the house every night, refusing to go on any out-of-town runs or to stay away from my mother for more than a couple hours at a time. They also became very protective of me around that time, not letting me stay out late or go out of town or even hang out at Lucas’s for very long” (57).


Links for pictures in collage: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Featured Image: here