Sarah Beth's Reviews > Back Roads

Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell
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's review
Apr 14, 2012

really liked it
Read from April 14 to 16, 2012

Wow, this book was a doozy. There's a little bit of everything in here: murder, adultery, child abuse, incest. Back Roads follows the sad life of Harley Altmeyer, a 19 year old who is forced to work 2 jobs to help take care of his three younger sisters after his mother supposedly shoots and kills his father. Harley's life starts to get really complicated when he starts sleeping with a wife and mother who lives down the road.

I thought it was a really interesting choice on the part of O'Dell to write from the perspective of a male. Yet Harley is the only male character the reader sees. All other main characters - his three sisters, his mother, his psychiatrist, his lover - are all female. While I do like the unique way Harley as narrator describes the world and I feel for his plight, I don't agree with the back cover's description of him as "touching." Harley straight scared me. He openly describes his desire to slam people's skulls against the wall, he blacks out and can't remember what he's done, he fires guns and sets couches on fire, and he constantly seems on the verge of losing control. That, and his history of being abused by his father/father being killed by a family member, make him less than a trustworthy narrator. I feel for him, I want his life to get better, I just don't want to be around when he does it. And it concerns me that the courts left three underage girls in his care.

O'Dell has a very lyrical writing style and Back Roads is a unique portrait of a teenager on the verge of losing control. I felt the conclusion of this novel was a bit of a cop-out and I didn't understand the frequent references to Harley's childhood friend since he doesn't seem to have a huge impact on Harley and he never appears in the novel. Maybe O'Dell meant him to represent an imagined escape for Harley; I don't know. Otherwise, an enjoyable (while disturbing) read.

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