Summary and book reviews of Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell

Back Roads

By Tawni O'Dell

Back Roads
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Mar 2000,
    338 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2001,
    416 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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 fiery, aggressive libido of a teenager. Just nineteen years old, he's marooned in the Pennsylvania backwoods caring for his three younger sisters, whose feelings about him range from stifling dependence to loathing. And once he develops an obsession with the sexy, melancholic mother of two living down the road, those Victoria's Secret catalogs just won't do the trick anymore. He wants Callie Mercer so badly he fears he will explode. But it's the family secrets, the lies, and the unspoken truths that light the fuse and erupt into a series of staggering surprises, leaving what's left of his family in tatters. Through every ordeal, the unforgettable Harley could never know that his endearing humor, his love for his sisters, and his bumbling heroics would redeem them all.

Funny and heartbreaking, Tawni O'Dell's pitch-perfect characters capture the maddening confusion of adolescence and the prickly nature of family with irony and unerring honesty. Back Roads is a riveting novel by a formidable new talent.

All those times me and Skip tried to kill his little brother, Donny, were just for fun. I keep telling the deputies this, and they keep picking up their Styrofoam cups of coffee and walking away only to return a few seconds later and heave their fat butt cheeks onto the metal-topped table in front of me and flash me sad, weary stares that would be almost tender if they weren't filled with so much hatred. They tell me they don't care about Skip and Donny. They're not interested in stuff I did when I was a kid. I'm twenty years old now. I will be TRIED AS AN ADULT. The words come out of their mouths in Skoal-flavored capital letters and hover against the fluorescent glare of the room. I reach out to touch them but before I can, they melt away again and one of the deputies slaps down my hands stained the color of a dead rose. They won't let me wash them.

They want to know about the woman. I laugh. Which woman? My life is lousy with women. All ages, shapes, sizes, ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews
The Orlando Sentinel

A vivid writing style that makes for enjoyable reading.

The Orlando Sentinel

A vivid writing style that makes for enjoyable reading.

The San Diego Union

O'Dell offers up a remarkable tale.

The Los Angeles Times

O'Dell's storytelling has natural flair.

Publishers Weekly

O'Dell's scorching tale touches on all the tropes of dysfunctional families, but her characters fight free of stereotypes, taking on an angry, authentic glow.

Kirkus Reviews

The dysfunctional dynamics of a family scarred by domestic violence and incestuous longings lead to some luridly melodramatic twists, but the authors compassion and love for her characters shine throughout. When ODells plotting achieves the maturity of her character development, shes going to write a really extraordinary novel. This one is pretty darn good.

Reader Reviews
David

Depressing
If you don't like books that start off depressing and end even more depressing, then this is not the book for you. The book is written very well though and it's hard to put down. Throughout the book I was just waiting for Harley to have some self ...   Read More

lawrence monye

one of the best
I have read a lot of books but this one is one of the best books I have read in all my time, very moving.... am recommending it to everybody

LM Hartman

Back Roads
This part of the book summary is so far off the mark, I thought I must have read the wrong book: "Through every ordeal, the unforgettable Harley could never know that his endearing humor, his love for his sisters, and his bumbling heroics ...   Read More

sasswood

Best Book I have ever read!! Haunting!!!
I read this book 6 years ago and I can not forget. The book haunts my soul.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Back Roads, try these:

  • Drowning Ruth jacket

    Drowning Ruth

    by Christina Schwarz

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A stunning portrait of the ties that bind sisters together and the forces that tear them apart, of the dangers of keeping secrets and the explosive repercussions when they are exposed. A mesmerizing and achingly beautiful debut.

  • Maybe A Miracle jacket

    Maybe A Miracle

    by Brian Strause

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    By turns humorous and heartbreaking, personal and sweeping, familiar and extraordinary, Brian Strause's first novel takes readers on an unforgettable emotional journey into America's heartland.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Hundred-Year House
    The Hundred-Year House
    by Rebecca Makkai
    Rebecca Makkai's sophomore novel The Hundred-Year House could just have easily been titled ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  132Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.