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

Back Roads

by Tawni O'Dell

Back Roads
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2000, 338 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2001, 416 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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, ...

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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
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

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.

Erin

I have read this book about 3 times over the past few years. It's a great book!

Jason 19

Backroads was a great page turner and hard to put down because the author's characters are so easy to relate with. I recomend this book to anybody that knows what it's like to be a confused and lost teen trying to make it under extreme circumstances...   Read More

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