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Walking Backward [Paperback]

Catherine Austen


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Book Description

Oct. 1 2009
When Josh's mother dies in a phobia-induced car crash, she leaves two questions for her grieving family: how did a snake get into her car and how do you mourn with no faith to guide you? Twelve-year-old Josh is left alone to find the answers. His father is building a time machine. His four-year-old brother's closest friend is a plastic Power Ranger. His psychiatrist offers nothing more than a blank journal and platitudes. Isolated by grief in a home where every day is pajama day, Josh makes death his research project. He tests the mourning practices of religions he doesn't believe in. He tries to mend his little brother's shattered heart. He observes, records and waits for his life to feel normal, for his mother's death to make sense, for his father to come out of the basement. His observations, recorded in a series of journal entries, are funny, smart, insightful--and heartbreaking. His conclusions about the nature of love, loss, grief and the space-time continuum are nothing less than life-changing.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Orca Book Publishers (Oct. 1 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1554691478
  • ISBN-13: 978-1554691470
  • Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 12.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 181 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #144,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"In this impressive debut novel, Josh keeps a journal to chart his feelings and thoughts, allowing readers to follow his journey from sadness to acceptance and the eventual return of cohesion in his family. Given the subject matter, the story is never maudlin, and Josh's voice rings natural and true. An elegantly crafted volume of lasting power." (Kirkus Reviews 2009-09-15)

"Josh's sense of humour, which lightens the somber subject matter of this novel, comes to light throughout the book...While professionals may find this novel useful as bibliotherapy, Walking Backward is much more than a therapeutic tool. With its well-drawn characters and depth of understanding, this work of children's literature should withstand the test of time...Highly Recommended." (CM Magazine 2009-09-04)

"Differs from most bereavement stories in both its male narrator and its genuine, if quiet and rueful, humor… The result is a book that perceptively gives weight to the small as well as the large ways bereavement can change a family and grief can intermix with the continuation of life." (Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 2009-11-01)

"The dead-parent genre is a busy one, but Austen breaks from the pack with this confident and peculiar debut… Austen is more interested in people's alternately funny and haunting reactions to grief… Austen is unsentimental about anger and regret, and that alone makes this a refreshing change of pace." (Booklist 2009-10-15)

"Austen comments - subtly, non-judgmentally - on the secular, nuclear nature of the contemporary North American family… Her writing cuts straight to the heart. She delivers a wise, rich novel, wonderfully compelling for children and adults alike." (The Globe and Mail 2009-11-21)

"Austen's protagonist is an endearing blend of smart-aleck and lost boy. The story - recounted in journal entries - deftly tackles such weighty topics as atheism, grief and the ties that bind a family together." (Montreal Review of Books 2009-10-01)

"As Josh struggles to understand his family, moments of great tenderness and emotion emerge…Josh comes to accept that dealing with loss is a messy, frustrating, and painful matter that cannot be avoided through mere ritual." (Quill & Quire 2009-12-01)

"Satisfying and realistic. This book would be a good catalyst for discussions about the impact of phobias or dealing with grief. Recommended." (Resource Links 2009-10-01)

"Josh's wise-beyond-his-years voice will admirably answer the call when young patrons ask for 'sad' books and also provide counsel when young people must deal first-hand with the loss of a loved one." (NMRLS Youth Services Book Review 2009-12-01)

"Throughout his emotional journey, Josh's voice is both natural and believable. Austen is both unsentimental and unapologetic in her employment of precise and elegant prose, and the complicated and often humorous reactions to grieving practices lend themselves to an enjoyable read." (School Library Journal 2010-02-01)

"This will appeal to young people looking for a sad novel, as well as those wanting to relate to another's trauma...A definite success. Recommended." (Library Media Connection 2010-01-01)

"Will resonate with those who have experienced a loss, even one not as traumatic as the loss of a mother, and its gentle portrayal of the stages of grief will strike a chord with those who are starting to think about the big questions of life and death and loss." (Book Notes (Center for Children's/Young Adult Books, MSU) 2009-12-01)

"The characters in Walking Backward are human, quirky and likeable…Josh's narrative perspective gives it humor and emotional honesty…An appealing book and a good pick for understanding the loss of a parent." (Puget Sound Council for Reviewing Children's Media 2010-03-01)

"An original and entertaining take on grief and coping with loss...[Josh] is easy to relate to and sustains this story with his strong, thoughtful and funny voice." (Canadian Children's Book News 2010-07-01)

"A charming and sometimes whimsical story." (Washington State YA Book Review 2010-03-01)

"This novel's refusal to sentimentalize loss or to accept quick or predictable solutions in conjunction with its ability to create a realistic and complex protagonist allows for a refreshing perspective on the story of the loss of a parent." (Canadian Literature 2011-05-01)

From the Back Cover

Once your mother dies, you're either unhappy because your mother died, or you're happy but you think you shouldn't be because your mother just died, or you're happy and not thinking about it until other people look at you like you're a freak for being happy when your mother just died. Any way you look at it, it's not happy. After his mother dies in a car crash, twelve-year-old Josh is left with a father who is building a time machine in the basement and a little brother who talks to a toy Power Ranger as if it is his dead mother. With no faith to guide him, Josh makes death his summer research project. "The dead-parent genre is a busy one, but Austen breaks from the pack with this confident and peculiar debut." -Booklist

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Touching and raw June 18 2010
By Sonia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Walking Backward is an extremely sad novel, and while I usually never cry during books, this one caused me to fetch the box of tissues. The author does a fantastic job with developing her characters; the voice of young Josh is dark, doleful, and realistic for a twelve year old boy; his little brother Sammy is every bit as crazy and innocent as a four-year-old can be; his reclusive, slightly apathetic dad is beautifully written. Josh's voice tells of his family members' different ways of mourning the loss of a loved one. Sammy is confused and traumatized, seeking comfort in his Power Ranger, which he pretends to be his mother. His dad holes himself up in the basement all day, working on a time machine to bring his wife back. Every page of this short novel contains Josh's interesting musings about death, loss, and life in general. Direct and to the point, Josh virtually covers all the dark and happy thoughts of a boy recovering from loss.

Overall, this quiet read provokes thoughts about the way to mourn loss, move on, and begin to live life again. This book does not contain much of a plot, but it is driven on by the inner journey of Josh and his family. Despite its lack of action, I recommend this touching novel that will entice tears out of everybody's eyes.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walking Backward March 17 2010
By Sharon A. Somers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Walking Backward was a surprise hit for me. I've read a couple of books from Orca Publishing and was underwhelmed by all of them, so I didn't have high expectation for Walking Backwards. This was the second book in a week to make me cry. Walking Backwards should come with a box of tissues. You have to be made of stone not to cry when reading Walking Backward.

12 year old Josh has the world on his shoulder after his mom dies. His father is hiding out in the basement building a time machine, so he must tend to his little brother, and deal with his grief all on his own. Josh also goes to a therapist which results in the journal style of Walking Backward. Josh is a very strong and intelligent 12 year old boy. I love how he would go off on tangents about different types of snakes while trying to figure out who put the snake in the car that caused his mothers fatal car accident. Josh had a unique and compelling voice through the story. I was compelled to keep reading to see how his story would end.

The relationship that Josh has with his little brother is touching and overwhelmingly sad. These were the parts of the book that had me in tears. How do you explain to a little boy that his mommy is never coming back? How do you explain it to him when you are just a child yourself? It was fascinating to see how Josh handled this problem.

The ending of Walking Backward closes up nicely. Josh gets some answers about what caused his mothers accident and is able to start the healing process.

Overall, Walking Backward was a very well written book. With strong interactions among the characters and a solid ending. I would recommended Walking Backward to anyone who likes a good cry.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quiet novel exploring grief, family and religion Dec 11 2009
By Megan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Grief is a tricky, tricky thing -- particularly when you have no guidelines to help you through it.

Such is the case for 12-year-old Josh, a young man whose mother has just died in a car accident. Alone for the first time with his four-year-old brother Sammy, who has taken to sleeping in Josh's bed and talking to his mother through a Power Ranger action figure, and his dad, who is now holed up in the basement watching home movies and working on a time machine, Josh is left to mourn his mother while simultaneously grappling with the fact that everything she once did -- and was -- has now vanished.

Catherine Austen's WALKING BACKWARD is a quiet novel about grief and unanswered questions and, as you'd expect, it's not exactly an uplifting read. The novel is Josh's journal, told entirely from his perspective, as requested from the grief counselor the family has been seeing after his mom's passing. Encompassing just a few months in the lives of this family, Josh is entirely preoccupied with determining the "right" way to grieve -- and trying to find a method that works best for he and Sam. Austen's skillful, nuanced explorations of the many world religions and how they mourn their dead was fascinating and, to me, the best part of the story.

Children grappling with the loss of a parent would relate to Josh's uncertainty and pain, and they're the audience to which I would most recommend this novel. And to other readers of all ages? Just be sure to have a box of tissues and a warm, comforting blanket handy.
4.0 out of 5 stars Walking Backward Oct. 24 2012
By Golaf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book I read was Walking Backwards by Catherine Austen. The genre of the book is a mystery because the kids are all wondering how their mother died. The author mainly focused on the mother's death and how phobias can really have a big impact on a person's life. She wrote this book in first person by writing it as a diary. I personally disliked this book because I would have preferred other people's point of view instead of just one person's point of view because I would like to know what actually happened.

The book takes place at Josh's house. It's written as Josh's diary and how Josh expresses his feelings about his mother's death. Josh is 12 years old and has a younger brother Sammy, who is 4 years old when his mother dies. To help him get through this process of losing his mother, Sammy caries around a power ranger action figure. Josh and Sammy's father went crazy after their mother's death, and he has been trying to build a time machine to turn back time and go back to the day when that snake magically appeared in his wife's car. I could only imagine how hard it would be on their dad, I mean you would have to raise two boys all by yourself, because they are not very close to any other family member. As a result Josh and Sammy have to raise themselves and have occasional help from their aunt.

Josh has a thing with this girl the summer before and they were planning on getting serious but she stopped talking to him the same summer his mom died. It just so happens that the girl Josh had a thing with was the one that had put the snake in his mother's car. She had just meant it as a joke to scare Josh. Josh's mom had an extreme phobia. Including all types of snake's plastic snakes freaked her out, pictures of snakes freaked her out and even the word snake freaked her out. It just so happens that there was a snake in her car the day that she drove off to run errands, it was all a combination of bad timing ignorance and just being teenagers in love messing around. The snake slithered up from the seat; this OBVIOUSLY freaked her out - so she ran off the side of the road and crashed into a tree.
4.0 out of 5 stars A young boy's grief, a whole family's loss Aug. 27 2012
By Meaghan Good - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I got this book free from Librarything Early Reviewers.

This is a sweet, touching story about a twelve-year-old boy's summer after the sudden death of his mother in a car crash. Josh's grief therapist suggested he keep a journal, and the book is his entries from July 30 through September 6.

Unlike a lot of books in diary format, this isn't overly detailed and sounds like it really could be an ordinary boy's journal. Josh's love and devotion to his little brother was moving. The rituals the grieving family went through ring true to me: Josh looks up mourning rituals from different cultures and religions, his four-year-old brother Sam pretends a toy Power Ranger is his mother, and his father hides himself in the basement all day trying to make a time machine. Also realistic was the family's gradual progress towards healing: at the beginning of the story, Josh and Sam are wearing pajamas 24/7 and beating trees with their toy swords while their father completely ignores them, but at the end the family goes on a camping trip and you see they're learning to cope with their loss.

I think this would be a good book for 9-to-12s and up, especially for those who have lost a parent.
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