YA fiction/ spec fic
First, I love the premise. The book takes place backwards. So like the movie Titanic, we already know the boat sinks. Only in this book the disaster at the end, which is really page one, is that a young man with everything going for him commits suicide. The question is, how did he get there? And can—or should—things be undone?
The book is written in 1st person, through the eyes of a narrator we only know as the Rider. Rider is more a functional title than a name. Another Rider is a main side character and provides both profound moments and needed crass humor. Riders are tied to the bodies of people in their dying moments, and live their days beside them, only in reverse order. So Chapter 1 is on November 15, Chapter 2 is November 14, and so on.
Our narrator is tied to Dan, who he calls “the zombie” because Dan walks through life seemingly oblivious. His younger sister looks up to Dan and he dismisses her. His single mom is overwhelmed and he refuses to help out with the simplest chores around the house. He is unaware of the beauties in the world. The only thing that can shake Dan out of his zombie state is Cat, a fellow student and artistic, perceptive nonconformist. But Cat lashes out at Dan. As the Rider moves backward through time, he picks up clues that Cat has been deeply hurt. Can he take over Dan’s body and save her? Or what if the impending disaster is so terrible, he can’t undo it, or even makes it worse?
The tone reminded me a bit of the Sandra Bullock movie Premonition, though I doubt the intended teen audience knows that movie. As Rider moves in time, he sees clues of what led to the disasters in the lives of the main characters. How much each character knows is constantly shifting, which keeps both the Rider and the reader in a constant state of semi-confusion and suspense. And the challenge the writer has of writing the suspense in backwards—well, I am just in awe.
There is a push and pull between Dan and the Rider. Just what is their relationship? Why is the Rider tied to Dan? Does he want him to live or die in the end (rather, the beginning)?
The book tackles some difficult issues like mental health, abuse, and crisis in moving ways that don’t cross the line into maudlin. The author draws portraits of teen life with razor poignancy. This, combined with the mystery and ticking clock, make for a read that teens will really appreciate. Backwards is a book you read fast to see what happens, and then again slowly, to see fully how it happened.
In other words, you’ll read it forwards and backwards.