Back Roads
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Back Roads

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3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  15,554 ratings  ·  689 reviews
"One day you're that guy who's happy he managed to survive high school and get that almighty piece of paper, and you're thinking you might try to get a job at Redi-Mix concrete where your dad's worked since the beginning of time. And at least you've got a family you can stand even if they are all sisters. One day you're that guy, and the next day you're assigned to a socia...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by NAL Trade (first published December 27th 1999)
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Community Reviews

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karen
i have developed a real taste for literature from this region lately. and that might be the problem; why i didn't love this book the way danaaaaa does. all of the other books i have read (and i am using the term "region" pretty loosely to encompass mostly appalachia, but blurring around the edges of appalachia-proper a little) have followed a pretty consistent speech pattern and tone that this one strays from. am i being sexist to point out that this is the only woman i have read writing this ki...more
Sammy
Let's just say one thing: this is one fucked up family. If you decide to read this book, brace yourself, seriously, the Altmyer's are fucked up. But for some reason, you still like them.

There's so much that happens in this story that keeps you reading I can't say much without giving it away. For a first novel O'Dell does an extremely good job. Her writing is raw and real which helps add to the mood and characters of the book.

One thing I liked about O'Dell's style was that instead of constantly d...more
Robert Beveridge
Tawni O'Dell, Back Roads (Viking, 2000)

I find the whole thing incredibly amusing.

Had a man written this book, word for word, the character of Harley Altmeyer would no doubt be blazoned on the front as "an unstoppable sociopath about to explode" (fill in the correct number of exclamation points, depending on era and author). Instead, the back cover blurb calls him "wonderfully touching." Oh, please.

Thank heaven Tawni O'Dell is a much better writer than her blurbist, because Harley Altmeyer is the...more
Kathy
This is my take on Oprah books: really bad things happen to people who are already suffering from other bad things and the end is never a happy one. In fact, they're often icky endings.

Woody loaned me Back Roads and I read through it in one sick day last week. The story is told from the point of view of Harley, a 19 year old boy, whose Mother is in prison for killing his Father. Harley's left with raising his three younger sisters.

There's abuse, murder, incest, adultery, mental illness...yep, a...more
Dan
Dec 15, 2013 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mature people lol j.k, anyone who likes to read
I have to admit that the blurb is deceiving this time. From the blurb, you wouldn't be able to tell how great the book is without at least reading the first chapter, it just pulls you in and you'll wanna find out more. Back Roads is about a 19 year old boy named Harley Altmyer who has to take care of his three younger sisters after their caring mom has been sent to jail for killing their abusive father. The book is not about how he's surviving in life though, but about love as well, as a key poi...more
Suzanne
I don't usually comment on my books, or give a review, but this book was great. Finished it in 2 days because I could not put it down. It's been a while since I was that into what I was reading. It's rough, raw, compelling, heartbreaking and you can't help connecting with the characters. This story will stay with me for some time.
Patricia
I bought Back Roads while I was on vacation in Florida. I bought the hard cover from the clearance shelf at Barnes & Noble for $5! I started reading it and couldn't put it down! I hadn't read a good book like that in a long time! Tawni O'Dell reminded me why I loved to read! I actually felt guilty that I only paid $5 for a hard cover version of such an amazing book! I loved it so much that I wrote to Tawni and asked her if she would sign it for me if I sent it to her with return postage paid...more
Dennis
Mar 17, 2008 Dennis rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: virtually no one
After reading so many women comment about men writing in women's voices, it's now time to admit that women writing as men can completely miss the boat. Harley didn't sound like any guy I knew, nor grew up nor WAS in my life. His sentiments rang completely hollow for me; rather he sounded more like how a woman would like a teenage boy to be. The most interesting character, Misty, went almost completely voiceless and the ending was laughable, as was most of the book. easily the worst of Oprah's Bo...more
Chip
I had a hard time believing that Harley would continue to go to see the therapist while working two jobs and not having a dime to spare... not that the therapy was costing anything except time, but it didn't add up other than as a plot device to explain that he was nuts (in case it escaped the reader's attention).

The real story should have been told from Amber's point of view. There were complex issues between Amber, Misty and their mother that Harley would never understand, and that complexity...more
Bev
I'm having a hard time rating this book. It's incredibly dark and morose, but the author does an excellent job taking us into the head of a 19-year-old small town boy who has been dealt an extremely tough hand--taking care of three sisters after his mother has murdered his father. I really felt for Harley, whose family life was so compromised that his attempts to rise above it were doomed from the start. Nevertheless, I had hopes that Harley could somehow survive, perhaps get away and start a ne...more
Miss Kim
Dec 04, 2011 Miss Kim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Miss Kim by: Teryl
First thoughts:

1. I can’t believe I picked up an Oprah recommended book.
2. Dysfunction
3. Incest? Didn’t see that coming.
4. Thanks to my good friend, Teryl, for bringing it to my attention.

This is a very fast paced story, and I was able to tear through it in a few hours. I felt for Harley, and all of his sisters. I can’t imagine being 17, mom killing pop, and being left to care for your three younger sisters.

I’m tired, and I suppose this not really a ‘review’ per se—just my feelings.

I didn’t unde...more
Teryl
I couldn't put this book down, which is crazy because it is so disturbing. Harley is border line crazy due to his upbringing, but I found myself feeling for him. I highly recommend this book, be warned, it is very dark and disturbing at parts.
Jessi
I have said it before and I will say it again "damn these first time bitches!" Tawni O'Dell wrote one hell of a story as her first novel,way to go!

I would recommend this to anyone, which normally with a story this dark I would be reluctant or would warn about the subject matter,but this is so well done.
Harley is a 19 year old boy, who has to take care of his three younger sisters,Amber,Misty and Jody, after their mother has been sent to jail for killing their abusive father. Harley works 2 jobs...more
Jeffrey Taylor
I'm conflicted. The book was a page turner. Tawni O'Dell has a fine writing style, great sense of plot development and character construction, for the most part. She does a great job of creating the mental world of a troubled, young adult and his experience of sexuality. Has an interviewer ever asked her how she developed this skill? Were it not for some serious flaws I would have given it a five star review. I like the metaphor of Callie Mercer stripping his father' coat off of Harley before on...more
Kit★
I found this book ages ago on one of my Goodwill trips, and it sounded intriguing, so I went ahead and picked it up. Then it sat forgotten in my TBR cupboard for awhile, until yesterday when I was rooting around in there, it called to me, and demanded I read it. So I did. I was pretty much hooked from the get-go, I immediately felt for Harley and his sisters, their whole situation. But it quickly devolved into me not being able to put the book down, it was like a train-wreck I just couldn't tear...more
Lynne Spreen
One of the most amazing aspects of O'Dell's writing is that she leads you to draw one conclusion about a character, and then slowly feeds you evidence that you've misjudged. I think that's what I enjoyed most about this story, the slow reveal leading to the ultimate conclusion. And then I'm left hating the people I respected, and respecting the people I hated. Awesome writing!

I'm done with the book but can't stop thinking about it, or the author. She actually grew up in Indiana PA, where this no...more
Shannon
This book had it all. Heartache, heartbreak, humor, and horror. So much has been written about Harley, the main character of the book, things that make him out to be a horrible guy but the thing I found most evident about him was pretty simple. He missed his mom and longed for her presence in his life. Maybe not even his mom but "a" mom, any mom. When he asked the neighbor to meet him at the mining office he asked her to bring the stuff to make smores. Earlier in the book his little sister was t...more
Aimee
I particularly like this book. It's that story of this teenage boy left to care for his 3 sisters after the tragic death of his father and his mother arrested for the crime. He could have entrusted them to the care of social welfare however he wanted to prove to himself he could provide for them. He juggled two jobs and caring for the sisters in between including amber who was so impossible to deal with. Then harbored a secret passion to his neighbor, a married woman with a child. Then at the en...more
Kelly
dark. darkdarkdarkdarkdark. it's the kind of book that...when you read it...you can hear the dripdrop of a lonely limestained faucet in the background. you won't love the protagonist...but you can't hate him, either. i can't explain exactly why I am giving this book 4 stars...other than to say that it was good enough to make me remember the protagonist...make me think about him after I turned the last page. I can't ask for much more...why isn't it a 5 star'er? well, I'm just an amateur. regardle...more
Petergiaquinta
Just because Oprah likes something doesn't make it good...ask Plato, he'll tell you.

The extra star is because the author and I were classmates at good old NU, although I doubt we ever spoke. That's the only reason I read it. I swear!

"Hail to twenties...hail to tens...hail to thee, Northwestern."
bobbygw
Aug 26, 2011 bobbygw rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy an adolescent viewpoint, dysfunctional families, literary novels
My eldest sister recommended this to me, and I was grabbed by her reference to The Catcher in the Rye, as she felt that Harley Altmyer, the 19-year-old who narrates the story in Back Roads, reminded her a lot of 17-year-old Holden Caulfield's in Salinger's novel. Having now read Back Roads, I could understand why she, and others, have made this connection: after all, both characters share a sense of being cut-off, feeling awkward, self-conscious and isolated; both feel frustration and a deep-fel...more
Jenn
read this book in one day, so I guess I'd call it faced-paced. I was very drawn into the tale, and kept reading in order to try to find out more about Harley and what really happened in his family. The book is at times funny, but more often it is...a stark portrayal of a severely dysfunctional family, who became that way as a result of one young child.

The characters drive this story more than the plot. Harley is part man, part boy, and sympathetic. Amber is...tragic...a clear product of her cir...more
Rachel
This was my first time reading an Oprah selection and I was disappointed. While it is a story that moved easily along, integrating me into the lives of the characters, I felt repulsed by the description of certain events in the book. To call it "gritty" doesn't quite capture how gross certain scene descriptions can be. And in those moments, I could no longer believe in the characters or the events in their lives. I was intrigued by the psychology of Harley, and the unfortunate circumstances of t...more
Malynda
At first, I was just going to rate Back Roads and not even type a review, because I really didn’t know what to say about this book. I still am unsure of what to say. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. It’s strange and a little crazy, which was sometimes a good thing and sometimes a bad thing. It’s basically about a nineteen year old boy named Harley Altmyer who grew up in an abusive household. His father use to beat him and two of his younger sisters until his mother killed the father. Now, h...more
Jerry
I was immediately drawn-in and engrossed in this dark tale from page one. Tawni O'Dell is one hell of a writer. Her prose so convincingly captures the hopeless feel of a small coal mining town in the hills of Western Pennsylvania. This story isn't for the faint of heart. Heavy themes of murder, sexual abuse, incest and violence run at the heart of this novel. The inside jacket describes Harley as the heartbreaking and lovable hero of the novel. That is not at all how I see it. Harley is the bare...more
Sarah
I kind of feel like this book should have a big R rating on the front or some kind of a warning about the subject matter. I will not be recommending this book to my mother since I don't want to imagine her reading all those more often than not weird sex scenes. I'm still horrified by the time she suggested we go and watch the Sex & the City movie together.

Having said that, my faith in Oprah Book Club picks has been restored! I used to love her book club picks and then she has a string there...more
Cheryl
Using the words of one of the characters, this book is about a "decent, responsible kid who's had a really shitty life."

A young boy grows up with an abusive father who is killed by his mother. The mother goes off to jail, leaving him in charge of his three sisters. In the midst of it all, his small town dislikes the family because, like his Uncle Mike explains to him, it's like this: "From the moment the people heard, they made a choice. You and your sisters are either the children of a murdere...more
Erin Rae L'Hommedieu
I'm torn between a 4 and 5 with this book. It's rednecky and trashy and disturbing and a little bit mind-blowing which pretty much satisfies all of my criteria to warrant a "fine novel" but it's almost too trashy and misogynistic and disgusting to give it a full 5. But then again there is amazing character development and it's done in a way that is subtle and psyhological and the author accomplishes something that very few writers can do in that she makes these almost despicable characters almos...more
Joanna
I hate to admit this, but I've resisted reading this book despite having it on my shelves for the past six years or so because of the Oprah sticker and because it's blurbs made it look like a run of the mill mystery. The narrator and the narrative voice makes this novel. Despite his basically acting like a nineteen-year-old boy with all the sexual tension and inexperience associated with it, and despite my basically not liking him or his actions, I felt sympathy and even empathy for him througho...more
Brenda
Tragic events place 19 year old Harley Altmyer as head of his family. His mother is jailed for the murder of his father. Rather than have the family split into foster homes, Harley assumes the role of
chief bread winner and head of household raising his 3 younger sisters. His troubles multiply as he struggles with the day to day problems, while emotionally dealing with the why of his mother's incarceration, paying the bills, feeding the family, emotions of his lost late teenage years, and most o...more
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What's The Name o...: fiction about a teen boy that kills his married lover [s] 4 46 Jan 23, 2013 11:00AM  
tawni odell 7 76 Feb 09, 2012 06:52PM  
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Tawni O'Dell is the New York Times bestselling author of Fragile Beasts, Sister Mine, Coal Run, and Back Roads, which was an Oprah's Book Club pick and a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection. Tawni's screen adaptation of Back Roads is currently in development to be made into a film with Adrian Lyne set to direct. Her work has been translated into 15 languages and been published in over 30 countri...more
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“She hated her job the same way I hated my jobs because she knew she was worth more, but she also hated herself so there wasn't much point in trying to do better.” 20 likes
“I wanted to end it now, like a bad TV show turned off in the middle.” 13 likes
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