Satanic YA Week at Blogging Between the Lines continues with a look at a book about a loser trying to make himself a better person by following the advice of Satan. Then we’ll finish up today’s post with a little interview with the author!
Rating: 5 big white-grape-flavored stars
Genre: Contemporary YA
Released: August 26, 2014
For fans of Andrew Smith’s WINGER and GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE comes the latest YA novel by Adam Selzer. PLAY ME BACKWARDS is a hysterical look at the senior year of a slacker named Leon Harris.
The plain and simple truth is: I loved Leon Harris. Yes, he’s the protagonist, and you’re supposed to like the protagonist, right? Well, Leon is a screw-up, a loser, a slacker, a slob, and sometimes a complete idiot. I loved him anyway. It takes a kick in the crotch from his ex-girlfriend in England to get Leon to realize all of these things about himself. And when he does, he goes to his BFF Stan for advice. Stan is really just a nickname for this guy’s real identity: Satan. Everyone know’s he’s Satan. It’s a well-accepted fact…right? Anyway, Stan gives Leon a couple of crazy quests, like listening to the entire audiobook of Moby Dick and locating the elusive white grape Slushee, and Leon sets out on a journey to change his life over the course of his senior year in high school.
Slowly but surely, Leon becomes less of an idiot that screwed up his current life and his entire future. Leon still remains very much himself, though. “If I ever stop laughing when people say ‘balls,’ I’ll know my heart is dead,” Leon thinks in chapter 25. I wouldn’t say Leon learns a lot about himself over the course of the story, but he does learn to keep what makes him Leon intact in the face of preppy girlfriends, parents threatening to kill you with butcher knives, and the eternal threat of not graduating.
Leon also learns a lot about love and relationships. He’s not the most experienced with girls, and his nervousness with sexual situations is a refreshing change from contemporary YA in which male sexuality isn’t really addressed at all.
“Love is like fitting two puzzle pieces from two different puzzles together.”
This book is the story of Leon trying to fit into puzzles he doesn’t belong in. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and the too sticky-sweet kind of gross. And you want to read it. Trust me on this one. Or better yet, trust Satan-ahem, I mean Stan.
And now on to the fun part! Thanks for sticking with me! I made up some silly questions that may or may not be related to that book you just read about, and Adam was lovely enough to answer them.
1. What is your favorite Slushee flavor?
I’m a sucker for novelty – I always want to try the new ones. Purple vanilla is the best, but I only ever had it at a slushee stand at the Iowa State Fair that could mix up pretty much anything for you. They came the closest I’ve ever come to finding “white grape;” they had one called “wine cooler” that was just white grape under a fancy name. I’ve been writing about slushees regularly since middle school; when my old band first wrote “The Slushee Song” (“all these slushees in front of me / so many slushees it hurts to pee / how many slushees can there be?”) We still record new songs when we’re in the same city, and the songs are still about slushees as often as not.
2. What is your least favorite ice cream topping?
Gummi bears. I love all things gummi, as a rule, but when combined with ice cream they freeze and become too hard to eat. It’s disgraceful. I feel like ice cream places have them out on display with the other mix-ins because they’re colorful and attractive to buyers, but they know darn well that a sundae with gummi bears is an inferior product.
3. What is your favorite ice cream + topping combination?
I once had a vanilla ice cream topped with bourbon-soaked cherries that had a lot going for it, but I’m gonna give the edge to this chocolate peanut butter shake topped with a toasted marshmallow that you could get over at this poutine shop on North Orleans Street here in Chicago. They’re closed now, though, along with this place on West Washington where the shakes tastes like the old 80s version of S’mores cereal. I don’t know who really first put chocolate and peanut butter together, but I hope they got the Nobel Prize. While I’m on the subject, Ben and Jerry’s has a limited batch out called Candy Bar Pie. Buy every pint you see.
4. Is Stan, in fact, an avatar of Satan?
Well, I don’t want to give away too much. But the earliest incarnation of this book was a poem (and then a song) about hanging out in Satan’s parents’ basement, playing Nintendo and listening to him talk about how he’s moving out of this town in 3-6 months, like he’s been doing since high school. In the poem I thought of “Satan” as a metaphor, really – the devil is that voice in your head saying “don’t read a book, try to beat your best time on Mario Kart,” or “Throw that vegetable in the garbage where it belongs and have another thing of Ben and Jerry’s.” And that’s sort of what Stan is in the book – he’s the enabler, the bad example. He’s Jeeves to Stan’s Wooster.
I think that a few weeks after the book ends, he’ll vanish from town and if you knock on the door of his house, some old lady will answer the door and say “I’ve never heard of any Stan, and I’ve lived here since 1952!”
5. Why did you name Leon Leon?
I wish I remembered! Leon came out of a short story (which became chapter one of my first book, HOW TO GET SUSPENDED AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE) about ten years ago – in the same college class that the above-mentioned poem came out of, in fact. Leon was just a name that occurred to me out of nowhere, the kind of name a 14 year old might complain about having. It might have been influenced by a character named Leonard in a Daniel Pinkwater book, now that I think about it. I basically based my life on Pinkwater’s teachings. I live in the neighborhood where many of his books take place and that’s not a coincidence. Not exactly.
6. Have you ever read Moby Dick?
Well, I’m afraid I’ll sound like that “guy in your mfa class” twitter account if I say “yes,” so I’ll just say “most of it.” I skipped a lot of the whale anatomy. I hear that if you really dive into that it becomes very profound and I believe it, yes Virginia, but in all honesty I just skipped over all the parts that weren’t about whale sex organs. As one does. It’s a weird, weird book.