Friday, January 9, 2015

Play Me Backwards by Adam Selzer

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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.

Leon appears to be a loser. He’s put himself in that position believing that lofty goals aren’t necessary to happiness and that there's contentment in working at a sordid ice cream parlor for the rest of his life. His parents have no clue that he’s been slacking off and in danger of not graduating. He's probably overwhelmed by the vast, open world beyond high school, that he’s procrastinating until he has to face the inevitable. That comes in the form of his life-long crush, Anna, who moved away to London years ago and who could possibly be moving back. He has always had her on this impossibly high pedestal believing that he’d never be able to get up to her level. He assumes that she's become more worldy than when he last saw her while he has accomplished nothing and has no ambition to speak of. All of a sudden, he’s not content with being indifferent about life. 

His best friend Stan, offers him advice and opportunity to shape up. Leon honestly believes that Stan could indeed be Satan. The best part is that this is taken as the truth and Leon and other friends don’t even question this. Stan is not a melodramatic character. He seems like any high school kid except he’s very good at bending things his way. He’s really rather charming and funny, always having an answer for everything. So with Leon going through this personal crisis, Stan gives him a list of instructions which include listening to the audio book of Moby Dick and dating a different girl named Paige. What Moby Dick has to do with anything, lord knows. But Leon goes with it and provides what is perhaps the best part of the story – his own random musings on Ishmael and the entire Moby Dick tale which are hilarious!

Somehow between listening to Moby Dick and the White Grape Slushee Adventure Stan sends him and Paige on, Leon develops new insight into relationships, himself and even the unattainable Anna.  I have to say that he is spot on when it comes to some of his observations.  One of my favourite moments in the book comes when he and his dad discuss his dating Paige.

“Your mom and I thought you and Paige were an unusual match,” he went one. “But if it works for you, it works for you.” “That’s what I’ve been thinking”, I said. “Relationships are all about taking two puzzle pieces that aren’t even from the same puzzle and making them fit.” I supposed I hoped Dad would talk about what a wise young man I’d become when I threw a line like that out, but he just nodded a little.

There’s a lot in this book  ridiculous and peculiar  that had me laughing or shaking my head, like Leon's non-conformist parents and their cooking disasters, his dealings with Paige's nosey little sister or his ability to confound any adult in the room. There’s really no major catastrophe (may be a slight scare). It’s just about this kid who’s been complacent a while figuring out what his next move will be with a little help from his friends, as odd as they are. Oh and Stan/Satan whose banter with Leon are very entertaining. By the end Leon seems to figure out his next step. The jury is still out on whether Stan is indeed the devil though.

Play Me Backwards has started off my reading in the New Year on a high note. It's perfect if you like awkward teenage moments, knuckle-headed moves and irreverent humor. Bonus for those who have suffered through Moby Dick. 

~ Bel

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