Cover of Play Me Backward by Adam Selzer. Two guys and a girl jump up and down on a couch

About the Book

Title: Play Me Backward
Published: 2014

Cover Story: Where Do I Start?
Drinking Buddy:
White Grape Slushee
Testosterone Level:
From Hell’s Heart I Whine At Thee!
Talky Talk:
Call Me (Biblical) Ishmael
Bonus Factors:
Coming Out, Moby Dick
Bromance Status:
That Guy Who Hasn’t Changed Since High School, For Better or For Worse

Cover Story: Where Do I Start?

Okay, so now we don’t have to tax our brains trying to imagine what Stan, Paige, and Leon look like. Stan looks like Jordan Knight, and Paige looks like she has hair growing out of her mouth. And the jumping on the couch thing didn’t happen in the book. Also, it’s not visible here, but that picture to Leon’s left is a photograph of a topless woman (you can see it on the inner flap).

The Deal:

Leon used to be in the gifted program in middle school. He used to date Anna B, the smartest, hottest girl in school. He used to be kind of a bad-ass rebel.

But Anna moved off to England years ago, and now Leon’s a high school senior, in danger of not graduating. He works at the Ice Cave, an ice cream parlor so skeezy it only stays in business because it’s probably a front for something. He hangs out with Stan, a guy who claims to be Satan, Lord of the Pit, Father of Lies, and night manager at the Cave.

Leon sees nothing wrong with this life, he wouldn’t mind working at the Cave for the next twenty years.

But then Paige shows up. One of the more popular girls in school. When Leon finds her at a Long John Silvers one night, having just gone through a rough breakup, he comforts her.

She then shows up at his house and more or less announces that she’s his girlfriend. Score.

Except Leon’s not sure he wants this. He’s still hung up on Anna. And Paige, she’s kind of high maintenance. Getting high in the back room of the Cave isn’t good enough for her, she wants to go out. She wants Leon to actually graduate and make plans after tomorrow. And she wants to spend every evening making out and trying to rip Leon’s clothes off.

Who’s going to put up with shit like that?

Leon asks the advice of Stan (aka Satan). Stan says Leon must listen to Moby Dick on CD and sends him on a mission to sample every flavor of gas station Slushee in Des Moines.

So he does.

Drinking Buddy: White Grape Slushee

Two pints of beer cheersing

Stan swears he once had a white grape Slushee somewhere, and this becomes Leon’s goal. In fact, he decides not to sleep with Paige until he finds this holy grail of frozen syrup.

Leon just kind of does whatever anyone tells him to: Stan, Paige, his parents, whatever. The few times he does make a stand, it’s for something silly, like sneaking a Satanic poem into the yearbook. He’s funny, but maybe not the type of guy you’d want to hang out with more than once a week.

Testosterone Level: From Hell’s Heart I Whine At Thee!

Now Leon has been with other girls since Anna, but they’re not exactly busting down his door. And then Paige, who’s popular, rich, sophisticated, and good-looking, throws herself at him.

“Hey, Leon, instead of getting high at the Cave, let’s go park in an alley and you can take my clothes off!”

Leon decides he cannot know Paige in the Biblical sense until he finds that White Grape Slushee.

Paige joins him on the quest. And she’s amused. At first. But I think most girls would only allow this to go on for a weekend or two.

Most teenage guys would not put off sex, even if they had a limb severed.

Talky Talk: Call Me (Biblical) Ishmael

There was a lot that could have been done with this book, but not all of it comes off. The whole ‘my buddy is Satan’ bit felt kind of tacked on. Stan could have just been a wise stoner and worked just as well. And Leon’s obsession with Anna didn’t really ring true either. And as for the voluntary chastity…I don’t buy it.

Not a bad book, not a slow book, but reading about teenagers hanging out, driving around, and wasting time…when I was seventeen I didn’t need to pick up a book to find out what that was like.

Bonus Factor: Coming Out

Pride flag being waved in a parade

No, not that kind…

Debutante at her coming out party

This kind.

Paige’s family is one of the wealthiest in all of Des Moines, Iowa. And as such, Paige is expected to attend the debutante ball. Leon is going to have to give up sitting on a couch eating fistfuls of Gumi things, find a suit, and escort her. And he has to not act stupid.

And surprisingly, he pulls it off.

It’s Paige who ends up kind of going off the rails…I can say no more.

Bonus Factor: Moby Dick

a whale tale vanishing below the water

So Leon manages to listen to the entire 800 CD version of Moby Dick. In fact, this is what gets him jonesing for Long John Silvers, where he meets Paige. But he quickly realizes this is a flawed work of literature. And that’s aside from the million pages of whaling talk. Like how does Ishmael remember all this? He goes to church and remembers the entire sermon…and writes it down. And how does he know what happened in scenes where he couldn’t possibly have been there?

Leon is of the theory that Ishmael actually died of kidney failure early in the voyage and now sees all as a ghost. Which is kind of cool, I guess.

But let’s face it: Captain Ahab rocked. He was a crazy muther, and we’ve all got a little captain in us.

Bromance Status: That Guy Who Hasn’t Changed Since High School, For Better or For Worse

Oh, hey. Still working here? Wow…same old whale cake in the freezer there. Oh, still doing that Satan thing…great. No, no, I can’t, got work tomorrow. Well…nice seeing ya.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor a white grape beverage for writing this review.


Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.