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Back Roads
Back Roads
Author: Tawni O'Dell
An intense, vibrant debut novel set among the back roads of Pennsylvania's mining country — 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 lif...  more »
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ISBN-13: 9780670894185
ISBN-10: 0670894184
Publication Date: 3/28/2000
Pages: 338
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.

3.7 stars, based on 155 ratings
Publisher: Viking Adult
Book Type: Hardcover
Other Versions: Paperback, Audio Cassette, Audio CD
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

WestofMars avatar reviewed Back Roads on + 162 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Okay, because I live in roughly the Western Pennsylvania where this is set, maybe I'm a bit biased. But O'Dell can write and create characters that while flawed aren't the least bit pathetic. The atmosphere she created, particularly with Harley in the woman's house, lingers with me still.
reviewed Back Roads on + 533 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Oprah Book Club® Selection, March 2000: Not since S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has a female novelist penned such a tough and titillating portrait of lower-class, crime-ridden manhood. Set in "beautiful, ruined" western Pennsylvania, amid Eat n' Parks and Lick n' Putts, Tawni O'Dell's Back Roads follows Harley Altmyer as he walks a raging, self-conscious line between crime and innocence. Why is he being held by the authorities, and what's he so mad about? In the recent past, it's his mother, who murdered his father and went to jail for life. In the far past, it's Dad himself: an abusive, hopeless man. In the present, it's the responsibility for his three younger sisters, which makes him fantasize about smashing their faces in until they "spit up bloody macaroni and cheese."
But Harley still has a conscience--barely. He doesn't strike his sisters; he's been trying to protect them. The oldest is sassy Amber, 16, who's having sex on the living-room couch with townies who abuse her; next is frighteningly stoic 12-year-old Misty, with eyes "a glazed brown like a medicine bottle"; the youngest is adorable Jody, who at 6 pens to-do lists with items such as "PRAY FOR DADDYS SOWL." Overburdened with the practicalities of life, and the ever-mounting losses, Harley has started seeing his own words floating in the air in front of his face. "CLOSURE. TRUTH. MOST GUYS."

This first novel opens well. O'Dell does an impeccable job of making Harley both brutal and forgivable. Here, for instance, he retreats to his basement room: "I lay there until dawn, thinking about Dad, and feeling the same useless frustration I had felt the first time I had seen him piss on a sparkling white drift of pure new snow."

But that delicacy is soon lost, and Back Roads risks becoming an overabundant affair, pitched high, with a roller-coaster trajectory. Harley's anger metamorphoses into an almost bloodthirsty lust for his sexy, middle-aged neighbor, which stirs up myriad forbidden family secrets. Misty, it turns out, has been hiding something. Amber revolts. And even Jody's scribbles turn malevolent. While the writing is good throughout, the tension and plotting assume an unpleasant adolescent posture--bodice-ripping passion and mordant gloom combined. Nonetheless, O'Dell's assured and touching portrait of her protagonist emerges unscathed. You will likely remember luckless, fated Harley Altmyer long after his tsunamic tale has receded. And no matter what the judge decides, you will understand why this impoverished, angry young man was probably the most innocent one of all.
WestofMars avatar reviewed Back Roads on + 162 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
O'Dell is, for me, a local writer, and she's sure got it down when she describes rural Western Pennsylvania. This book gives you a lot to think about: clear characters facing real problems, beautiful writing that'll stay with you. I first read this a few years ago and parts of it have stayed with me since.
reviewed Back Roads on + 15 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Very good read. A bit twisted, but in a totally, frighteningly believable way. Do NOT read this book if you have been abused or have a hard time dealing with the reality of the darkside of human nature. Very well written. It will make your heart thump right along with the characters !
reviewed Back Roads on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book was very deep and emotional. It brings you into the lives of a very dysfunctional family where incredible circumstances leave 3 children without parents. It was disturbing at times, but no more so than life can be at times. Overall this book was definitely worth reading.
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crafty4you avatar reviewed Back Roads on + 8 more book reviews
this book got me from the first was very moving,and heartfelt.this is a must read book.even oprah suggests it
reviewed Back Roads on + 3 more book reviews
This was an Oprah selection. It is a very moving story about children living on their own after parents become unavailable/ Made me laugh and cry.
reviewed Back Roads on + 2 more book reviews
One of the best books I have read! Heartbreaking yet extremely moving!
reviewed Back Roads on + 13 more book reviews
Anyone who has lived in rural US can relate to this book. I really appreciate Tawny O'Dell.
reviewed Back Roads on + 7 more book reviews
Great Book
holtzy avatar reviewed Back Roads on + 48 more book reviews
An Oprah book list book which is a somewhat sad insight into the plight of a young man trying to keep his family together. alot of responsibility for one so young. A very good book
reviewed Back Roads on + 19 more book reviews
Really good. If you are looking for a light, pleasant story, this is not it. It is emotional and sometimes dark, but you will not want to put it down.
reviewed Back Roads on + 12 more book reviews
Book was very interesting. Some subject matter may be difficult for some readers. I did like the book though.