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Back Roads

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  20,107 Ratings  ·  858 Reviews
Harley Altmyer's mother is in prison for killing his father. So Harley is bringing up his younger sisters and working two jobs to pay the bills-and that doesn't leave a lot of time for distractions. But lately, he's getting distracted by Callie Mercer, an older woman who fills him with such desire he fears he might explode. And as he struggles to keep it together while thi ...more
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published March 28th 2000 by Viking Penguin (first published December 27th 1999)
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Mar 07, 2016 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back roads meet backwards. This is a story of a disturbingly dysfunctional family. 19 year old Harley is a country boy, raising 3 younger sisters on account his mother is in jail for the murder of his father. Hormones running amok, sanity on the edge, an obsession with an older woman, mix in an abusive upbringing and this is formula for self destruction.

The transformation from child to man happens with the delayering of lies that reveal truths: ugly ones. He is in a constant tormented struggle w
Aug 08, 2010 karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: icky-sex
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
Jun 12, 2007 Sammy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: b-the-good
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
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
May 20, 2008 Kathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 15, 2013 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 15, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Aug 18, 2012 Patricia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 17, 2008 Dennis rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 05, 2011 Chip rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
May 17, 2011 Jessi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Miss Kim
Dec 04, 2011 Miss Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 23, 2008 Bev rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2008 Teryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Jan 23, 2011 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2010 Malynda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: love-the-cover
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
Jan 01, 2016 Kit★ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lynne Spreen
Oct 27, 2012 Lynne Spreen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 18, 2010 Aimee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Karyn Niedert
This was Tawni O'Dell's first published novel (I think) and it commanded praise from Oprah Winfrey as a Oprah Book Club selection, various accolades, etc.

This was my LEAST favorite of O'Dell's novels. I thought it was depressing as hell. If this is the first O'Dell book you pick up and think, "Uugh, this sucks!" then try one of her other books. "One of Us", which was released in 2014, is excellent. "Fragile Beasts" and "Coal Run" are also terrific options.

Bottom line, don't take THIS book as typ
Feb 03, 2008 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
dark. darkdarkdarkdarkdark. it's the kind of book that...when you read 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
Jul 19, 2011 Beth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
19 year old Harley must take care of his younger sisters after mom shoots abusive dad. Harley starts out as a funny, sympathetic character, but the ending spirals out of control. Also, the AUTHOR has an annoying HABIT of capitalizing some of Harley's WORDS. I guess in case we can't figure out that something important is happening.
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"Not since S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has a female novelist penned such a tough and titillating portrait of lower-class, crime-ridden manhood. Set in "beautiful, ruined" western Pennsylvania, amid Eat n' Parks and Lick n' Putts, Tawni O'Dell's Back Roads follows Harley Altmyer as he walks a raging, self-conscious line between crime and innocence. Why is he being held by the authorities, and what's he so mad about? In the recent past, it's his mother, who murdered his father and went to j
bobbygw bobbygw
Aug 26, 2011 bobbygw bobbygw rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 23, 2008 Jenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 12, 2012 Jerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-challenge, 2012
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
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
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tawni odell 7 94 Aug 03, 2014 03:09PM  
What's The Name o...: fiction about a teen boy that kills his married lover [s] 4 54 Jan 23, 2013 11:00AM  
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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.” 29 likes
“I wanted to end it now, like a bad TV show turned off in the middle.” 15 likes
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