Harley Altmyer is young with his whole life in front of him. He should be away at college, figuring out who he is and what he wants to do with his life. Harley’s not away at college or backpacking through Europe or doing anything a typical 19-year-old boy would be doing. Harley is trying to hold down a dead-end job and raise his three younger sisters in a run-down coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania.
Harley’s mother was sentenced to life in prison after killing their abusive father, and with the only other option being that his three sisters go into foster care, Harley sacrifices his youth to take on the role of parent.
Harley’s only escape from his sad life is his obsession with the mother of two who lives down the road. A lonely housewife who’s husband is gone most of the time, the beautiful, sad Callie Mercer and Harley start an affair. With no thoughts of the consequences, Harley falls hard and fast. His obsession consumes him. His fantasies and thoughts become violent and disturbing as they are fueled by his anger and frustration. Harley never acts on his anger. He remains the loveable, overwhelmed guy struggling to keep his head above water.
As you dig deeper into Harley’s drab world, dark family secrets are slowly revealed. O’Dell does an excellent job with the twists and turns. The story slowly builds to a shocking conclusion.
O’Dell has managed to paint a cast of extremely vivid characters. Harley is frustrated and overwhelmed and brutal, but all the time endearing and forgivable. His three sisters, Amber, Misty and Jody, each have their own distinctive personality and voice.
“Back Roads” is a twisted, damaged story that was hard to read at times. I found myself disgusted and disturbed, but I couldn’t put it down. I needed to find out how everything was going end up for Harley. I wanted him to get the happy ending, and the chance at life that he deserved.
Though the story is dark and disturbing at times, Harley’s character brought some light as he tried the best he could to hold everything together. His innocence and cynicism, his love for his sisters and sense of humor helped to offset the bleak life he was living.
“Back Roads” is a haunting story full of family secrets that is gripping, dark and completely addictive.
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