Friday, October 4, 2013

Backwards (Todd Mitchell)

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to preview this book before publication.

Backwards is a curious novel. It begins with the suicide of the main character, Dan, which triggers the birth (which maybe isn't the right word) of this unnamed spirit who begins to live Dan's life day by day in reverse. He makes it his mission to prevent Dan's suicide or, failing that, stopping an unknown danger from befalling Cat, the girl that Dan's spirit-thing (the book uses the term "rider") has fallen in love with.

So I liked the book. It was pretty short (something like 285 pages) and readable--is "readable" less complimentary than "engaging"? I'm tired of using "engaging" all the time but I feel like "readable" isn't an adequate synonym. I was certainly interested in both the premise and the outcome, but that's not to imply that the book was without weakness.

We'll start with the most glaring--it's a YA issue book. I mean, it begins with a teen suicide, and through traveling backwards, we find out that Dan has done something bad to that leads to his eventual suicide. The actual incident is also pretty YA-issue, and it's frustrating because the rider goes so long without knowing what it is (even though it's almost immediately clear).

Dan's rider spends most of the book loathing Dan, which is frustrating because I wasn't particularly a fan of the rider, either. While this book mostly avoids the "deep statements" nonsense of the YA curse, there is a scene in particular where the rider declares "everyone has a secret life" as if it's a big revelation to the world. Obviously. Obviously everyone has a secret, vulnerable part they try to keep locked up. Not a surprise.

The book reminded me of a cross between David Levithan's Every Day and Patrick Ness' recently-released More Than This, and while the comparison is a good thing (as I enjoyed both of those books), it's also a bit dangerous because I didn't like Backwards as much as I did the other two. I don't want this to sound like a tear-it-apart negative review because I did like Mitchell's novel. There are certainly moments where it's heartfelt and the good sort of sad, but the two parts of those other novels that converge here (that being teen suicide that doesn't end life permanently and an other consciousness living inside another body) were done better elsewhere.

The ending is a little too neat. There's a plot twist that's supposed to stun but feels like cheating; it erases a lot of what the book built up and gives everything a too-shiny veneer of a happy conclusion. It's not that I didn't want things to work out, just that they worked out too quickly and a little illogically for my tastes.

But I'm sure kids aged ~15 will eat it up. It does do a good job integrating its issue of choice without feeling too heavy-handed (although there is a bizarre heavy-handedness to the Alice in Wonderland interest Cat has, which I'm sure the young teens will also eat up). It's a good book. It could just be better is all.

My rating: 3.5/5
Backwards on Goodreads
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