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Backtracked
Pedro de Alcantara

Publ. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, US, March 2009, eBook or hbk, 272 pp, ISBN 978-0-375-89200-4 (eBook), 978-0-385-73419-6 (hbk), US$15.99.

Review by Judith Kleinman (first published in StatNews, May 2009)

 

If anyone doubted that the Alexander Technique can help us with curiosity, creativity and confidence, Pedro de Alcantara can be our example. He is a great ambassador as he has all these qualities in abundance.

Backtracked is Pedroís second novel for young people; his first was Befiddled, for younger teenagers. Of course he has also written A Skill for Life and Indirect Procedures. Backtracked is aimed at the mid teens. The story is fast paced with lots of satisfying twists and turns, and some vivid glimpses into the past with some well-researched history. It is all set in New York and has a love of the subway deep at the heart of the story. It is in the spirit of many time travel books.

As Stravinsky said, "Looking into the past is like looking into a mirror." Perhaps that is one of the messages of this book -that the more we come to terms with our past and understand it, the more we can be comfortable in the present. (Is this a metaphor for understanding our habits?)

 

It is the story of Tommy Latrella, a feisty boy who is uncomfortable with his life and his family and is haunted by the memory of his older brother who died a hero in the 9/11 disaster. Tommy rebels against his brotherís saintly memory, his father and his school. He turns to graffiti and travelling the subway. Tommy is looking for "freedom, thatís the only thing I ask for, freedom to be myself not the reflection of a memory." He meets a strange mentor who shows him the power of "easy movement". However, during a bid for "freedom" Tommy plays a prank which goes horribly wrong, is thrown into a time portal and finds himself in 1918. Here he learns about the building of the subway and the Italian immigrants who work like hell to dig the tunnels. He meets the lovable Alfie who plays a key role as someone for Tommy to look after and is helped along by the unconditional love of the motherly Susanna. Tommy cannot become too comfortable as he is soon propelled through another time portal into 1932. Here he learns more life lessons -of the depression, the mafia, and that giving is often far more satisfying than receiving. His final journey into the past takes him to 1942, the harsh realities of war, the army and self-sacrifice.

 

During the course of the book, Tommy learns to love his family, warts and all, and sees itís up to him to shape his life. This book is especially good for boys, with short chapters and large print. There is enough bad language to satisfy the young (and the middle-aged reviewer who has given up swearing for Lent), it has a nice subversive feel, and the storytelling is confident. There is a great balance of narrative, dialogue and description. In the era of J K Rowling and Philip Pullman, Pedro has done something special by creating another journeyman book of self-development for young people.

 

Is it all about the Alexander Technique? Yes and no. Itís about the journey that Alexander can be in our lives, itís not about being perfect, itís about being comfortable with ourselves. For some peopleís taste the last chapter might join rather too many dots, but for the deeply touching moments and the wonderful storytelling, we will all want to add this to our collection of books by the talented Pedro de Alcantara.

 

© Judith Kleinman 2009

 

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