December 06, 2018

Todd Mitchell: "Backwards"

Title: Backwards [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Todd Mitchell [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller/Mystery, Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2013
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Fresh, well-executed premise. Great guessing game.
Cons: Lacks a strong emotional punch - though the very structure of the story accounts for that.
WARNING! Graphic depiction of suicide. Rape in the background.
Will appeal to: Those who like unusual premises, bookish puzzles, and stories about second chances - of the time-travel (but not sci-fi) variety.

Blurb: At the moment Dan's life ends, the Rider's begins. Unwillingly tied to Dan, the Rider finds himself moving backwards in time, each day revealing more of the series of events that led to Dan's suicide. As the Rider struggles to figure out what he's meant to do, he revels in the life Dan ignores. Beyond the simple pleasures of a hot shower and the sun on his face, the Rider also notices the people around Dan: his little sister, always disappointed by her big brother's rejection, his overwhelmed mom, who can never rely on Dan for help, and Cat - with her purple hair, artistic talent, and misfit beauty. But Cat doesn't want anything to do with Dan. While the days move in reverse and Halloween looms, it's up to the Rider to find out why Cat is so angry, and what he must do to make things right. (Amazon)

Review: As I already stated in the introductory section, this is NOT a sci-fi book, despite time travel being at its core. So you may probably enjoy it even if sci-fi is not your jam.


I'm fairly sure that you've never read anything like Backwards. Going back in time may be a pretty common book device, except I can't name another novel where not only the thing happens on a day-by-day basis - that is, every new day the narrator (the Rider) lives is, in fact, the day before, from start to finish - but the real protagonist (again, the Rider) is also unsubstantial and just a spectator at first; and later, when he tries to retroactively change what's to come, the flesh-and-blood character he's tied to (Dan) is oblivious of it - or even gets in the way. I know, this sounds like a mind-fuck...except it's easier to actually follow the story than to explain its logistics. Also, while the narrator tries to prevent a tragedy (that may not be the one we think it is in the first place) by slowly peeling layers of truth away and figuring how to influence things, we have our own mystery to solve - just WHO is the Rider, and how did he come to be? and are there any other entities like him? This makes for a fascinating read, even if Dan's everyday life is pretty average on the whole, and the Rider's interactions with...well, anyone are fairly limited at first. [...]


Upon cracking the book open for the first time and learning about Dan's suicide through the eyes of the Rider, the thing that struck me the most was the sense of detachment and even contempt the narrator seems to regard the incident with. And all through the book, while he's sympathetic to Dan's mother and sister and deeply fond of his schoolmate Cat, the Rider seems not only to despise Dan for shutting out his family and ultimately taking away his own life (which I can sort of understand but still seems harsh - especially while he's watching the very event unfold), but also to feel completely removed from the thing emotionally. All through the book, he doesn't strive to save Dan, as much as to repair his damaged relationship with Cat (or first and foremost, to prevent the damage), in hope that he'll be able to take Dan's place and be with her in the end...or in the beginning...or whatever. I'm not saying the Rider is devoid of compassion, but he sure seems not to have much of it to spare when it comes to Dan. The thing will indeed make sense at the end of the book, when we understand who/what the Rider is, but then again, it bothered me, and I was able to overlook it just because the story was so different and compelling due to its peculiar structure.


At its core, Backwards is a contemporary dealing with depression, cliques, bullying and rape culture. But what with the story enfolding in reverse, and the double mystery getting us engaged, the point of the book shifts, and its quirkiness becomes more poignant than the themes it addresses. It does a good job of showing how it's often the little things that, by piling up, can steer your life off course, and it has a great message of self-love and forgiveness, but to me, its driving force is the unusual, mysterious predicament of its main character. I did like the Rider's voice though, the people he cares for, and the ending - despite its sounding a bit like a cop-out or anti-climatic to some readers. I think it fits the bill, though it leaves at least one plot point unresolved - it just pushes it aside somehow - and there isn't the great showdown one might have expected. Then again, as I said, the smooth transition in the end makes a lot of sense. Overall, I liked Backwards more for its format and execution than for its message, but it was a solid read that I'd recommend to everyone looking for an unusual contemporary - that is, unusual especially as far as its structure is involved.

For more books that defy categories click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in R.A. Sinn: "A Second Chance for Yesterday".


  1. This sounds like it could be really deep given the subject matter. You make it sound as if I would like the character, which is really important for me, but you have me questioning the ending. I am the queen of needing a good ending. 3.5 is not terrible and you had a lot of good things to say. Sounds pretty good to me.

    1. Mild spoiler...
      ...The ending wouldn't disappoint you, I'm sure 😉.

  2. Boo, no emotional appeal, though I like the concept? And from the way you said the way the book is executed, Backwards does seem appealing... as long as the formatting isn't confusing (which doesn't seem to be the case), I'm a happy reader for the most part.

    1. The emotional appeal issue is...well, let's just say, it makes sense when you reach the end. And the formatting isn't confusing - the book just goes plainly backwards, day by day, so I think it's easy to keep track of things.

    2. 🤔🤔🤔 When you put it that way it doesn't sound as bad. 🤔🤔🤔


    3. I indeed IS morning though 😂.

  3. I love the idea of living life backwards! Does he still age as he travels in reverse? Am I understanding the concept correctly, or is this more like Benjamin Button? I think I might need to read it for myself to truly understand what is going on and why. I'm not sure it would be a good fit for me in general, but I might be willing to try it out. The fact that it's lacking an emotional punch is a bummer! Also, why is he going backwards?

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

    1. The story takes place over the span of a few days, and since the Rider is unsubstantial, he wouldn't age (or age backwards) anyway. The reason why he's going backwards is...well...not explained, but implied in the resolution.

  4. First of've posted so much I've missed them all! SLOW DOWN lol

    This sounds really quirky but I'm not sure how I'd feel that he's only *helping* Dan to get to his sister, if I'm understanding your review correctly.

    I'm also not a fan of stories that center a supporting character rather than the deeper subject (the person committing suicide). That happened to me with Evan Hansen. The story was solid but I couldn't ignore the person driven to suicide because the other person benefited from it and had his life changed.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

    1. Hehe. All while you weren't even touching a book, of course 😉. Maybe if I take a hiatus you'll go back to reading and blogging! 😂

      Um, this was a difficult review to write if one wanted to avoid spoilers, so maybe it ended up being confusing? The Rider isn't helping Dan, as much as trying to retroactively prevent an event that seems to have occurred between Dan himself and his crush Cat (though the Rider doesn't know what it was until he starts to live Dan's life backwards). And it's Cat the one the Rider is interested in, not Dan's sister (though he cares for her in a different way). Also...ah...let's just say that this is not the same case as the book you mention, because Backwards isn't a straight-up contemporary...not to mention, the Rider inhabits Dan's body during the day, so he does live his life (though he tries to steer it from its course in the meantime). I hope this helped...

  5. Just when you think time travel cannot get more confusing and complicated, someone comes up with a new idea! I read a lot of time travel that is future focused, like people traveling forward in time. I have also encountered time travel where the main character travels back in time to a certain period, but then time always moves forward from there. Even just trying to explain this is getting me confused, but I just wanted to say that I appreciate the unique format that Backwards attempts. (You definitely explained it better than I did).

    Even though the structure is unique, I am a little bit cautious when such sensitive topics, like suicide and depression, are handled with detachment and judgment. I don't want you to spoil the ending away, but I assume that the issue is handled well, right?

    Regardless, thanks for the great review and for introducing me to another unique, mind-bending book!

    1. I was in love with the concept of time travel long before I became a Doctor Who fan. Apparently, the possibilities are endless! And don't worry, you explained it just fine 🙂.

      What I can say is, there's a reason for the judgment and the detachment, and the ending will resolve that...

      Thank you! Though I assure you, trying to explain this particular book is more mind-bending than the book itself LOL.


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