I have a strange obsession with young adult literature. Maybe it comes from being a children’s librarian for four years. Maybe it comes from me not really wanting to be a full-on Adult. Either way, I’ve read almost every major young adult coming-of-age novel.
This isn’t a major one, but it’s still a coming of age story.The story is told through the eyes of one Alex Taylor, a 16 year old boy about to enter sixth form (the UK equivalent of senior year of high school mixed with a bit of early college). But it’s not his story. Not entirely, anyway. It’s sort of more about the love interest: Scarlett Stevens.
The whole story is more about life in general, and thinking you’re in love with someone, and how the two sometimes work together and sometimes, well….don’t.
I actually got to read the first draft of it before it was finished, back when it was only about a hundred or so pages. So I enjoyed seeing the little tweaks and changes, what few there were.
The book’s kinda like a Kevin Smith film: you don’t so much care about the story as you do the dialogue. And the dialogue is great. It’s got natural flow. It’s pretty much how all my guy friends spoke in high school.
Some of the visuals are great as well. They’re vivid enough for you to imagine, but also leave enough to the imagination to where you can add your own details. It makes references that aren’t forced, and that’s also pretty wonderful.
There is one chapter I had issues with. The last chapter where Alex is discussing the meaning of All That Glisters (a fictitious novel) with his English teacher is slow and plodding. It turns into more of a forced monologue about love. And really, it’s not just about love, but…spoilers.
The book’s great if you want to read a John Green novel not written by John Green. Actually, it’s like Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars had a baby, but it didn’t come out quite right, like a turtle with two heads. Backwards pretty much an homage to those stories, with the main character not seeing himself as anything special and falling in love with this intense, beautiful girl with issues.
That brings me to my next point. I’m torn between actually liking Scarlett and hating her. I like her because she’s quirky and artsy and has a hard time connecting to people. I dislike her because she falls into the worst trope. She fluctuates between being a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and having her own agency. For those of you who don’t know what a MPDG is, “(s)he’s stunningly attractive, high on life, full of wacky quirks and idiosyncrasies (generally including childlike playfulness and a tendency towards petty crime), often with a touch of wild hair dye. She’s inexplicably obsessed with our stuffed-shirt hero, on whom she will focus her kuh-razy antics until he learns to live freely and love madly.” I took that from tvtropes.org. That pretty much sums up Scarlett. The only difference is she suffers from depression. The only times she has her own agency are at the beginning and at the end, and I won’t spoil the ending for you.
What’s sad is that the author actually knows better than to use an overused trope. It’s one thing to use it and break it down or to use it and show how the Manic Pixie Dream Girl idea is toxic. But neither of those happened.
On all of his social media sites, he hyped the book up as a “different” young adult novel and how great it was going to be. Really, it’s exactly the same as any other YA novel, the only differences being the references made to Doctor Who. And a good two chapters talking about trains.
It’s not Stephanie Meyer, but it’s certainly not John Steinbeck, either. Maybe the next novel (which is previewed at the end of Backwards) will have more hits than misses. I give Backwards From Infinity 6 out of 10 Honda scooters. If you want to follow him and ask him questions about the book, his Twitter is awriterforhire and his Tumblr is manicpixiedreamguy.