Cover image for Back roads
Title:
Back roads
Author:
O'Dell, Tawni.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2000.
Physical Description:
viii, 338 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.9 15.0 36330.
ISBN:
9780670894185

9780670887606
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

"One day you're that guy who's happy he managed to survive high school and get that almighty piece of paper, and you're thinking you might try to get a job at Redi-Mix concrete where your dad's worked since the beginning of time. And at least you've got a family you can stand even if they are all sisters.One day you're that guy, and the next day you're assigned to a social worker and a therapist and given the choice of either being a LEGAL ADULT with three DEPENDENTS or an ORPHAN with NOBODY." --From Back RoadsHarley 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.


Author Notes

Tawni O'Dell , a western Pennsylvania native, earned a degree in journalism from Northwestern University. In addition to earning wages as a bankteller and a waitress, she put herself through college working as an exotic dancer jumping out of cakes at bachelor parties. A mother of two, she lives with her husband in Illinois. This is her first novel.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harley Altmyer, a 19-year-old living in the Pennsylvania backwoods, works two jobs to support himself and three younger sisters, all orphaned when their mother is imprisoned for killing their abusive father. Harley is frustrated by his dreary, duty-filled life, resentful that his best friend is away at college and has escaped the dead-end existence of the small town. He resents his mother, who, albeit in prison, has escaped the relentless demands of a seriously dysfunctional family: oversexed Amber searches for love in every boy she meets; Misty wears as a bracelet the collar of her pet cat who died in mysterious circumstances; and Jody, only recently recovered from total withdrawal, compulsively makes to-do lists. Harley's affair with Callie Mercer, the mother of Jody's friend, marks his sexual and emotional awakening, but it won't permit an escape from family secrets. He regularly visits a state-funded psychologist but responds with sarcasm, indifference, and denial until a family crisis rewakens memories that lead him to a truth more awful than the apparent reality of his miserable life. Harley's first-person account of the deterioration of his family and his own slow-motion meltdown is harrowing. O'Dell, a native of western Pennsylvania, renders finely detailed characters and settings in a desperate and failed mining town. This is a riveting first novel of violence, incest, murder, and madness. --Vanessa Bush


Publisher's Weekly Review

Nineteen-year-old Harley is left to rear his three younger sisters after their mother is imprisoned for murdering their abusive father in this searing, hardscrabble Party of Five set in Pennsylvania mining country. Doubly resentful because his best friend is off at college, Harley spends his days slogging as a Shop Rite bagger and appliance-shop delivery person, coming home to cold cereal dinners prepared by six-year-old Jody. Harley is bitter about having to take over for his motherÄ"she still had us kids but we didn't have her"Äand he can't shake the feeling that she prefers prison to their home life; a mystery lingers around his father's death. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Amber is sleeping her way through the town's teenage boys and flaunting her body in front of Harley; middle sister Misty, once her father's favorite and his hunting companion, practices shooting. Desperate for relief, Harley finds solace in rough but exhilarating encounters with married Callie Mercer, little Jody's best friend's mother, losing his virginity to her on a muddy creek bank and reveling in her sophisticated, sensitive words. But memories are stirring in his subconscious, and erotic dreams of the Virgin Mary metamorphose into nightmarish sexual visions. In his sessions with a court-appointed therapist, Harley edges closer to understanding his family's twisted dynamic, but it is only when the horrors of the present begin to catch up with those of the past that a series of shattering truths are revealed. By then it is too late for Harley to save everyone he loves, but in sacrificing himself, however hopelessly, he introduces a note of grace. 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. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

In a small Pennsylvania town depressed by coal mine closings, a young man of 19 finds himself thrust into the role of parent. Harley has become the guardian of his three younger sisters as the result of their mother going to jail for the shooting death of their father. Each sibling finds his or her own way of coping with this family tragedy. During his regular visits with a psychotherapist Harley finds some comfort while at the same time feeling disdain for this woman. He is able to satisfy his youthful urges by beginning a series of sexual encounters with an older woman whose daughter is a playmate of his youngest sister. The characterizations are vivid, and each family member generates sympathy. Reader Dylan Baker does a satisfactory job of interpreting Harley's sense of frustration and cynicism. An absorbing novel worth purchasing for fiction collections.DCatherine Swenson, Norwich Univ. Lib., Northfield, VT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.