About the book:
Title: Play Me Backwards
Author: Adam Selzer
Age level: YA
Genre: Realistic fiction
Subjects: Satan, Relationships, High school, Iowa, Ice cream shops, Weirdos, Slushees, Moby Dick, Slackers, Opposites attract
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 8/26/2014
Format read in: e-ARC
Source of book: Edelweiss
Cover: YES! Combined with the title, I would absolutely pluck this off the shelf. Jumping! Devil horns! Tell me more!
Why review this book?: Anything being billed as Satanic YA is something I want in on. Like I said, tell me more!
Summary (from bn.com):
A committed slacker enlists the help of his best friend (who may or may not be the devil) to get his act together in this novel filled with humor, awkwardness, and honesty, ideal for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Leon Harris isn’t exceptional and he isn’t popular. He’s the kind of guy that peaked in middle school, when once upon a time he was in the “gifted” program and on the fast track to Ivy League glory.
Now, a high school senior, he’s a complete slacker who spends his time hanging out in a third-rate ice cream parlor with his best friend, Stan, a guy who (jokingly, Leon thinks) claims to be Satan. Committed to his sloth, Leon panics when he finds out that Anna, the love of his life aka middle school girlfriend, might be moving back to town.
Determined to get his act together, Leon asks Stan for help. Stan gives him a few seemingly random and mysterious assignments. Date a popular girl. Listen to Moby-Dick, the audiobook. Find the elusive white grape slushee. Join the yearbook committee.
As each task brings Leon one step away from slacker city and one step closer to Anna, he starts to wonder if maybe he shouldn’t have promised Stan his soul after all…
Characters: Leon is smart but unmotivated. He’s about ready to graduate high school, or at least hopes to graduate high school, assuming he can get all of his detention done in time. He figures he’ll just continue to work his totally undemanding job at the ice cream shop, where he spends most of his time eating free candy and shooting the shit with his weirdo friends. Leon is a FANTASTIC character. He’s complicated in all the best ways. He’s funny (he claims to be wide deliverer on the school crotch-kicking team), crude (when in doubt, talk about poop), a little lost (try to live up to his alleged potential or stay a slacker?), and pretty anxious. Stan, his best friend who claims to be Satan, is fairly innocuous, as far as devils go. He throws some wild-ish parties, claims to be the mastermind behind some big plans (“the halls will flow with the blood of the unbeliever”), and generally seems to enjoy some minor rabble-rousing and a little debauchery–no more, really, than your average teen. Paige, Leon’s eventual girlfriend, is the kind of girl I hated in high school–a girl who would date a boy who seemed waaaaay more interesting than she was, and then I’d wonder what the hell the attraction was. You know who else was kinda awesome? Leon’s parents. They’re not too involved in his life, and they don’t show up a ton, but I loved them. They are WEIRD. They call themselves “food disaster hobbyists,” which means they find vintage cookbooks and create recipes that are generally disgusting looking/sounding/tasting. They dress up, they get in character, they have fun with this completely weird hobby. Going to remember that instead of referring to myself as a bad cook, I’m going to call myself a “food disaster hobbyist.” Way cooler.
Writing: Immensely readable. Writing is immensely readable? Why yes, I have been reviewing books professionally for ten years—how can you tell? But you know what I mean–it’s well-written in that nice unobtrusive way. The writing doesn’t draw real attention to itself—it just tells a great story. It’s a great mix of humorous and introspective, too.
Plot: Pieces of the plot: Find the elusive great white grape slushee. Listen to all of Moby Dick. Decide if it’s worth changing your slacker ways. Figure out a way to have sex without the performance anxiety killing you. Good stuff, right? The plot is basically figuring out what it means to be floundering at the end of high school.
Ending: A happy ending that doesn’t rely on everything being tidy or any kind of “happily ever after” idea. Felt right for the story, and felt real.
Liked: SO MUCH. I read this on my ereader and kept marking places that I wanted to go back to and think about. You know what I really liked in here? The sex stuff. I know—you’re shocked. Here’s why: Leon is self-conscious. He’s awkward. He has major performance anxiety issues. Before Paige, Leon has had sex with two girls, Brenda and Mindy. Leon has sex with Brenda after a few weeks of making out. “For one thing, it took me forever to get hard,” he says. The experience is pretty cringe-worthy. They’re in a dirty basement room, Brenda is exasperated by Leon, and everything about the experience is awkward. It’s pretty awful. But you know what? THANK YOU ADAM SELZER FOR WRITING THIS AWKWARD SEX SCENE. We don’t see enough of that. We also don’t see enough depictions of boys angsting over sex. Girl #2, Mindy, likes to constantly remind Leon that he doesn’t exactly measure up, anatomically speaking, to her ex-boyfriend. “You’d probably be fine for most girls. I just kind of got spoiled by Darren,” she says. OUCH. He’s embarrassed. He talks about not being good at it and feeling like shit. And when he gets together with Paige, they have lots of semi-clothed sex (eventually—he’s hesitant and nervous), most of it in his car tucked away in what appears to be an alcove for a dumpster behind a store. I could go on forever.
Disliked: Well, S(a)tan was a little insufferable, but I suppose he would be.
BONUS!: Did I mention there’s awkward and realistic teenage sex?!
Verdict: If it’s not obvious, I liked this book a whole lot. I went into it thinking the main character would be S(a)tan, or maybe most of the story would revolve around his doings. Maybe the kids listened to death metal (and they do). Maybe they had some hijinks (they do). I didn’t expect to find such a wonderfully neurotic oddball slouching toward graduation. Read this, okay? I need someone to talk with about it. Read it! Order it for your library! Wide appeal—this one will be easy to move off the shelves.
“Maybe falling in love is just about finding someone who is willing to put up with most of your shit if you put up with most of theirs.”
After Paige says surely Leon has told his friends that they’re having sex, and he says he has not. “Guys sound like douche bags when we talk about sex. ” “Yeah,” said Stan. “Girls sound liberated, guys sound like douche bags. That’s just the way it is.”
“If I ever stop laughing when people say ‘balls,’ I’ll know my heart is dead.”
I spent most of the time reading this also humming the excellent song by the Mountain Goats “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” I was pleased when I got to a part in the book that references it!