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Literature / Back Roads

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The debut novel by American author Tawni O Dell, the story revolves around Harley Altmyer, a teenager who takes care of his three younger sisters. Published in 2000, the book was an Oprah's Book Club release. Some tropes featured in the novel include:

  • Abusive Parents : Harley's dad. Subverted when Harley comments that he wants to hit his sister, and he realizes it was "nothing personal." Also serves as a Freudian Excuse for many of the family's problems, particularly Amber's attraction to abusive guys.
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  • Adults Are Useless : Pretty much all of them.
  • Bring My Brown Pants
  • Brother–Sister Incest : Harley and Amber, at the very end, although it's hinted that they had a sexual relationship when they were younger
  • Department of Child Disservices : Harley attends court-ordered therapy, but it doesn't seem to help much.
  • Dysfunctional Family : And how!
  • Hollywood New England : The story is set in rural Pennsylvania, but much is made of the class difference between the working-class Altmyers and their wealthy neighbour, whose father owns most of the land nearby.
  • In Medias Res : Harley is already at the police station, talking about what got him there.
  • Likes Older Women : Subverted. Harley sort of falls into his affair with the mother next door, but he claims his life is "lousy with women."
  • Parental Abandonment : His father was murdered by his mother not really. When visiting her in prison, Harley gets the impression that she's relieved to be there, stripped of her parental duties.
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  • Parental Favorite: Misty is clearly her dad's favourite, though the possibility of sexual abuse is hinted at.
  • Promotion to Parent : Harley. He's offered a choice: He can be "an ADULT with dependents, or an ORPHAN with nobody."
  • Stacy's Mom : Harley meets his crush because his youngest sister is friends with the woman's daughter.
  • The Woobie : Poor, poor Harley. And the youngest, most innocent member of the family, six-year-old Jody.


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