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Back Roads

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  24,900 ratings  ·  1,096 reviews
Harley Altmyer should be in college drinking Rolling Rock and chasing girls. He should be freed from his closed-minded, stricken coal town, with its lack of jobs and no sense of humor. Instead, he's constantly reminded of just how messed up his life is.

With his mother in jail for killing his abusive father, Harley is an orphan with the responsibilities of an adult and the
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Berkley Books (first published December 27th 1999)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  24,900 ratings  ·  1,096 reviews

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Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
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 05, 2010 rated it liked it
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
May 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 rated it liked it
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 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Asghar Abbas
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Never before I've read characters so visceral, resilient, strong, so brave, and yet so utterly self-destructive; bent on harming themselves when they can forgive each other. This was an Oprah Book Club choice, but I’ll forgive that.

This is without a doubt hands down, absolutely one of my favorite, favorite books. Of all Time. In fact, this one here is right up there next to Fools Die by Mario Puzo, on the very top. It's so haunting, beautifully written. The characters so real that I feel for the
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. Sh ...more
May 05, 2011 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
This book introduced me to a new author and I'm very surprised that I had not heard of this
book before now as it was published 20 years ago. All I can say is, wow, I'm so happy that
I finally read it.
Tawni O'Dell's writing in this book is by far some of the best I've read and it literally shook me to my core. I'm an absolute sucker for an unreliable narrator and this story was all that and more. There were moments when I was confident that I knew everything that i needed to know to judge a ch
Natalie Richards
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-book
Engrossing, painful and raw.
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Rebecca McNutt
Back Roads was an alright novel but there was something a little creepy about it. A teenage boy in love with an adult woman? And he says he could "violate her a hundred different ways"? ...Disturbing. Aside from that, the story of a kid struggling to keep his siblings from falling into the foster care system was very interesting.
May 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Okay so this book...I went into it not expecting anything - it's not normally the book I'd read. It contains some very mature topics so if you're not comfortable reading those then this book really isn't for you!

So I decided to pick this book up purely because Jennifer Morrison is going to be playing Callie in the film adaptation and she's been talking about it for a while. I can't wait to see how the film adaptation turns out and how Jen portrays Callie on screen.

This book honestly made me so
Mar 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wow and Disturbing. I wish I would've read it with Oprah as that had to have been a good discussion. The middle! I was close but not quite. The ending! I had an inkling, but the wrong culprit.

You're just jealous because those are. the shorts you wanted at Fashion Bug.

Too fat. Too geeky. Too seventies. Too eighties. Too obvious. (clothes and how an outfit looked)

Scrambled eggs and Bacon-O's.

He was one of those guys who took more pride in what he owned than who he was.

Those who know the truth are
Miss Kim
Feb 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
A dark dark book that I couldn't put down. I have a thing for stories that take place in poor mining towns.
Apr 30, 2011 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
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
I have had this book on my to read shelf for a long time. I passed it over so often I honestly lost track. I decided FINALLY!! I was going to read this book before the end of the year. I think the fact that it was an Oprah book club selection had me a bit turned off. I have not had good luck with the relatively recent Oprah picks. However, this one was fantastic! It was such a great character study into dysfunction that I could not look away from the proverbial train-wreck that was unfolding in ...more
Jan 15, 2011 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
Feb 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sallie Dunn
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you like dysfunctional and disturbing this is the book for you! Despite the overall sadness here there are moments of laughing out loud. Marley will be with me a long time. I usually read 3 or 4 books at a time and finishing this in 8 days is a testimonial to its riveting story line. I found myself favoring this one over my other current reads, and, honestly they are good books, too!
Stefanie MagMag
'The problem with trying to forget about shit is you can't.'

(view spoiler)
Viewed through the thoughts and experiences of a 19 yr boy old left to care for his three sisters after his mother is imprisoned for murdering his father. Main theme is family violence and the horrendous effect it has on the children trapped within it. I couldn't put it down. Its not in your face, gruesome or aiming to shock, though it does of course - most of it is the sad, scary, dreary, frightening relentless daily reality of living in a family where a convincing enough form of love coexists ...more
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tawni odell 8 107 Oct 24, 2019 04:35AM  
What's the Name o...: fiction about a teen boy that kills his married lover [s] 4 69 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.” 49 likes
“I wanted to end it now, like a bad TV show turned off in the middle.” 16 likes
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