Back Roads Reader’s Guide: Questions for Discussion
Harley Altmyer is a complicated figure. He is part saint, part sinner; part child, part man. Discuss these contradictions. Which parts of him do you like? Which do you dislike?
How might Harley be different in other circumstances? Could he have had a normal life despite his abusive upbringing if he wasn’t caring for his three sisters?
Harley sometimes has violent physical fantasies, many of them aimed at women. Do you think his fantasies are worrisome? Normal? To be expected, given his circumstances?
There are very few male influences in Harley’s life. He obviously grew up in a family with fairly traditional gender roles. Yet Harley was not interested in hunting, sports, or other “manly” pursuits. Do you think this was a subconscious rejection of his father’s worst masculine qualities? What effect do you think his father’s scorn had on Harley’s self-esteem?
Discuss why Amber is such a tragic figure. Did you feel that way even before the climax of the book? Why does Amber seek safety and comfort in the arms of all the wrong people? Why does it infuriate Harley? Are the reasons more complex than you initially suspected?
Why does Harley’s mother take responsibility for the shooting? Do you think she did the wrong thing? In what ways was her false confession further abdication of her maternal responsibilities?
Discuss the theme of character as it applies to Misty. Do you think she is beyond redemption? Should Harley’s mother have assumed her new role as head of the family and sought help for Misty?
Harley’s father is as complicated a figure as Harley. In many ways, he is painted as a decent, hardworking, loving man. Does his casual violence negate all that? And how culpable is Harley’s mother for overlooking the beatings?
Sexual tension between Harley and Amber is evident throughout this story. Is a certain portion of this natural when teens reach puberty? Did you find the violent love/hate relationship between Harley and Amber explained by their semi-incestuous past?
Do you think it’s significant that Harley’s first sexual relationship is with an older married woman who has children? In what ways does Callie mother Harley? Do you find that interesting in relationship to the themes of abandonment and incest that run through the book?