Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Small Backs of Children” as Want to Read:
The Small Backs of Children
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Small Backs of Children

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  2,946 ratings  ·  547 reviews
A masterful literary talent explores the treacherous, often violent borders between war and sex, love and art

With the flash of a camera, one girl’s life is shattered, and a host of others altered forever. . .

In a war-torn village in Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures a heart-stopping image: a young girl flying toward the lens, fleeing a fiery explosion that
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Harper
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Small Backs of Children, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Megan McInnis It looks like you marked your question as a "spoiler," so that should explain why no one has clicked on it.
Kelly Thank goddess the cover was revised to that explosion of color and girl!

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.47  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,946 ratings  ·  547 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Small Backs of Children
Angela M
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok

I loved this book in the beginning. I read an e-galley of this on my kindle and as I often do , I started to highlight passages that stand out for me or that get me in the gut . After a few pages , I realized that I had highlighted more than half of what I had read . The writing was gorgeous. From the first page , it is marked by an intensity , by language that was beautiful even as it was laden with metaphors of pain and grief and the brutalities of war and death .

It's a different sort of read.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I would follow Lidia Yuknavitch anywhere. Or, at least, that’s what I thought when I started this phenomenal and bizarre trip through the maze of art, love, sex, and violence. It wasn’t those topics that got me going, it was the language. Every sentence seemed to fit snugly and sharply into my psyche, like my psyche had been waiting for these sentences all my life. Her writing stirs me up, makes me think, caresses my soul, elicits the visceral.

In some way I don’t understand, she was tapping int
Debbie "DJ"
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those rare books that I cannot describe, only to say that it hit me at gut level. Sometimes so much so that I had to set it aside, as it had it's way with me. It is a book about artists and their art, but the characters do not have names, simply, the photographer, the painter, etc. Their lives become intwined but artistry is everything. The plot is one of the inner journey, and with it there can be violence. The writing is exquisite, raw, and filled with meaning. Be warned however ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do love postmodernism when it is done right - and it is done brilliantly here. There is just something I adore about authors willing to play with genre, with conventions, and with style. The first few chapters had me glued to the page and I knew I was reading something extraordinary. I loved this a lot but the last quarter did not quite work for me.

Juxtaposing the horror of war in Eastern Europe with the more quiet horror of grief of an US-American writer, Lidia Yuknavitch shows the whole ran
Rae Meadows
Feb 22, 2016 rated it liked it
I admired a lot of what Yuknavitch did with this book, the layering of characters, the spinning of plot, but I did not love it. She is a formidable talent on the sentence/image/poetic level, and I could see what she was going for with the focus on the body--violence/sex/love/life/art--but there were things that undermined the power of the book for me. I felt like the graphic sex was supposed to seem transgressive, but for me it felt only gratuitous. And one scene--if you've read the novel, the p ...more
Julie Christine
It is the little girl from Trang Bang, a village north of Saigon, running naked and screaming from pain and bombs and napalm. Her name is Kim Phuc.

It is the electrifying stare of an Afghan teen, her head wrapped in a blood-red scarf, her green eyes pulsing with anger and fear at the Soviet invasion that has decimated her home. Her name is Sharbat Gula.

It is the Sudanese child dying of starvation, stalked by a vulture. We don’t know the child’s name or what became of her. The photojournalist too
Jun 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
Part of me just wants to say this wasn't the book for me. But a larger part of me is saying, "Who the heck is this book for?!" As advertised, it is about the intersection of violence, sex, and art. But it all felt largely gratuitous. The style was this forced literary thing where all of the characters had jobs instead of names - The Writer, The Photographer, The Poet, The Playwright, The Filmmaker, The Painter, and, central to the story, The Girl. Firstly, if a majority of artists are so self-in ...more
Ingrid Lola
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I need to find a small photo of Lidia Yuknavitch so I can worship it.
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it


Wow! ***deep breath*** I finished this book several days ago and only now am I able to corral my thoughts, harness them, slow them down to the point where I can capture them in words on paper. The challenge to sharing my thoughts is they incessantly changed, expanded, contracted, twisted and turned long after absorbing the final page. This book was hauntingly evocative. Yeah that’s the word I was looking for ... haunting. Eerily haunting. Corporeally sorrowful???

I loved this
Jul 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
The writing was good, but I found all the characters extremely narcissistic (except maybe for the film-maker and the widow). No names were provided for any people or places, except America - which is bashed (along with most men) through-out the book. As a non-American I wasn't quite sure what to make of this - every country has it's own problems I think. To be fair I think that because I don't agree with the main message - Art is more important than love, this probably colored my perception of t ...more
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
You know how sometimes you’re reading a book and a moody art dude goes into his studio and begins a complicated choreography that starts with covering his genitals in paint, segues into self-penetration with a paint-stained digit and ends with him furiously spilling his seed on the canvas -- it’s sort of his signature -- and you’re like heaving and breathless, not because it’s hot (it’s not) but because it’s Art, man. And truth. And life, no death. Clutch book to chest. Applaud author’s ability ...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
More specifically: the small back of one Eastern European child who is made to carry the dead-weight of an otherwise Zach Braffian cast of vapid characters when she's not on her back getting raped by yet another stranger.

Yes, both the rape and sex scenes seemed like shock for shock's sake, and since rape and sex scenes made up the majority of the book, that's even more of a problem than usual. I'm not scared off by disturbing content, but it needs to serve more of a purpose than as a shortcut to
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lidia Yuknavitch revisits the aching wound of her sillborn child in The Small Backs of Children. While fiction, this moving novel reads like non-fiction -- it is so personal. Yuknavitch has the rare and almost magical ability to write beautifully about things that are horrific. Gathering together the stories of several characters, each playing a part in an elaborate plot to save their friend, Yuknavitch delivers a gorgeous, heartbreaking tale of friendship, guilt, redemption and healing.
This book was so creative and well written and I thought that it was going to end up being a 4 star read, but it just didn’t pan out that way for me. Some of the elements that I loved in the beginning turned out to be too over the top for me. It seems like there is a fine line with whether or not these elements make the book feel pretentious. For instance, why doesn’t the author give characters names? They are known as the painter, the writer, the filmmaker, etc. Is this a way to remind us that ...more
Melissa Crytzer Fry
I don’t know where to begin… except that there’s an obvious reason I didn’t rate this book. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how… In some respects, it’s a 5 – maybe even higher, if such a rating existed – for the sheer beauty of the language alone, and the ability of the author to sculpt poetic metaphors that describe pain in the most unique of ways. (I was furiously highlighting passages throughout the first 30% of the book). The naming conventions of the characters – The Writer, The Playwright, The P ...more
A beautiful, brutal book about love, (kinky) sex, grief, war, violence, and art. I love Yuknavitch's writing, such raw use of language rooted in women's bodies. Above all the novel concludes that making art is the only refuge we have in the face of the world's atrocities, whether that means large scale military occupation or individual sexual assault. This is a fierce, difficult, but rewarding book. For fans of Kathy Acker and Jeanette Winterson.
Amy Gentry
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
I loved Yuknavitch's "body memoir" The Chronology of Water, but could not deal with this novel. Where her memoir always felt grounded in real flesh and blood, here the bodies are abstracted and turned into painfully literal (and clumsily written) metaphors. I'm particularly uncomfortable with the way a distant conflict (probably Bosnia, although this book is allergic to proper nouns so we don't know) is used here. Without specificity, the messy, gutsy glory of Yuknavitch's prose falls flat, and ...more
xTx xTx
Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Breathtaking, in so many ways. I need to read this again. And, again.

Thank you, Lidia for...once again...bringing us such beauty and truth.

This novel starts with the survival of a young girl whose family dies in a bombing. A photographer catches the moment with her camera, a photograph that adds to her fame and wealth. The setting is never clear although Bosnia, and Russia are mentioned. A group of artists - playwright, painter, poet and photographer - are the central characters. They seems to do little but engage in drugs and sex. This is an often violent, and often disturbing novel. After reading it, I understand why the receptio ...more
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
No words I have can do justice to this beautiful, devastating, gutting book. The interwoven stories, the truths and fictions making art and love and reality...I just finished it and opened it the the first page to read again.
Oct 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
I disliked nearly everything about this book. To begin, the author refers to the characters, not by their given names, but by their profession: playwright, filmmaker, poet, painter, and the character they become consumed with "saving" as simply the "girl". As a woman, I would describe this book is angry feminist, noting this quote: "... for there is no girl we are not always already making into a woman from the moment she is born -- making a city in the dirt next to the boot of a man. It could b ...more
Jessica Jeffers
I don't even know how to rate this. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I think it was well-written. You might like this if you're into dark novels that feel like they're written by poets (though Yuknavitch's bio doesn't mention poetry -- a fact that surprised me).
Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With the tone of McCarthy’s 'The Road,' and the structure of Picasso’s cubist women, Yuknavitch’s Small Backs of Children (SBOC) is a work of art.

Set around one event from multiple points of view, including the writer (author), Yuknavitch has given us the story of the birth of art – that of violence on the body, where all art is made.

Rather than a linear plot function, scenes echo out from an act of war all too familiar. The construct is just beautiful.

The notion that art is born from great su
missy jean
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
T/W for graphic violence and sexual violence: I actually kept thinking it was gratuitous--it might have been gratuitous--but then toward the end of the book the narrator said,

"You wish I would stop speaking of all this blood, but I'm afraid it's the point.
Stop wishing it wasn't.
Just once, the story will keep its allegiance to the body of a single woman.
Not the object of her body, but her experience of her body.
With all of history deeply up and in her."

And I felt caught, like I'd committed some t
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful, well-written experimental and artistic novel. Perfect for those who invite literature to challenge them. This is not your typical boxing match—it is ruthless and chaotic –every breath of air is a small victory.

Lidia’s well-crafted sentences break the mold of traditional storytelling and create a new kind of tale- something closer to the joy, fear, and honesty bottled up in the space between the heart and the sex.

This is a book worth reading, buying, and reading again -- b
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So beautifully written.
Book Riot Community
An award-winning photo of a small girl fleeing an attack in a war-torn village becomes a subject of obsession for a writer who has suffered a tragedy of her own. As she sinks deeper and deeper into depression, her friends and family decide the only way to save her is by rescuing the girl in the photo. Another astounding book from one of today's most astounding writers.

We host a weekly podcast all about new books called All The Books. You can tune in here:
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I had heard Lidia read at AWP before and had been a fan of her work for quite some time, but this novel is EXQUISITE. Go buy it now... If I had enough money, I would just buy a copy for each of you. I can only think of one book offhand that has made me rethink reading and writing in the same way.

5 stars times infinity.

Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
First, a "warning" -- This book incredibly intense and readers should be aware that there is violence and graphic sex, often intertwined. I think these scenes are meant to disturb/disrupt but I know these scenes are simply not something every reader is comfortable with. Okay, again I'm caught in my own language a bit, few will be "comfortable" with these scenes, but it does limit the audience substantially. I'd skip this book if you have any distaste for the use of graphic depictions of sex (inc ...more
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a stunning, stunning book (but of course it is, because Yuknavitch writes nothing but stunning work). I've read it twice, starting it again as soon as I finished it, which is something I very rarely do. But this book is so dense, so layered, that it felt like the first reading was just a rubric for how to actually read the work. I can't recommend it highly enough.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
general thoughts? 1 20 Aug 17, 2015 09:35PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Red Pill
  • Record of a Night Too Brief
  • Vera Kelly Is Not A Mystery
  • Loose Woman
  • You Exist Too Much
  • Die, My Love
  • Fix What You Can: Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker's Fight for Her Son
  • Dead Man Dancing: A Novel
  • Ask the Cards a Question
  • Even As We Breathe
  • We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life
  • Edwin of the Iron Shoes (Sharon McCone #1)
  • Japanese Ghost Stories
  • Woman: An Intimate Geography
  • Robert B. Parker's Fool's Paradise (A Jesse Stone Novel Book 19)
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat
  • Geisha
  • The Lightness
See similar books…
Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of the National Bestselling novels The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children, winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award's Ken Kesey Award for Fiction as well as the Reader's Choice Award, and the novel Dora: A Headcase, Her widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water was a finalist for a PEN Center USA award for creative nonfiction and winner of a PNBA Award an ...more

Related Articles

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
37 likes · 16 comments
“Who are we in moments of crisis or despair? Do we become deeper, truer selves, or lift up and away from a self, untethered from regular meanings like moths suddenly drawn toward heat or light? Are we better people when someone might be dying, and if so, why? Are we weaker, or stronger? Are we beautiful, or abject? Serious, or cartoon? Do we secretly long for death to remind us we are alive?” 6 likes
“She is at a crossroads: a child’s violent will to survive lodged in her chest where her heart should be, but an utter indifference along with it.” 5 likes
More quotes…