If, like me, you think books are best discussed, here are some questions you can use with your book group, students, or random strangers to explore Backwards.
Note: All these questions are based on questions that readers sent or asked me (thank you readers!). If you come up with a good question, please send it to me. I’ll keep adding to this list (so check back later).
1) The dedication for Backwards reads, “To anyone who’s ever lived backwards, you are not alone.” Before reading the book, what do you think it means to “live backwards.” After reading it, what do you think this means?
2) The Rider starts referring to Dan as “the zombie.” Why do you think he calls Dan this? What about Dan is zombie-like?
3) Cat’s self-portrait is described in detail on page 24. Why do you think she depicted herself as several characters like this? What does this self-portrait suggest about her, and how she sees herself? Why does the Rider like her, or connect to her, because of this?
4) Why is Cat angry at Dan in the scene on pages 25-28?
5) Why does TR like to be run over by cars? What desire(s) does this action speak to? What does this show about his character?
6) In the “Night” chapter on page 97, TR states, “I’m more afraid of not falling.” What does he mean by this? Why might he be afraid of not falling? How does this relate to some of the other things TR does?
7) On page 97, the Rider recites the message, “Fear will cause what you fear.” How might this be true (or not true) for the Rider? Why does he recite this message now?
8) Later in that same chapter, on page 98, the Rider states, “We had to keep jumping to see what called us back.” What do you think he means by this? What are some of the things that call the Rider back?
9) On page 140, TR says “This is hell.” Why? What has changed for him? What about his existence is “hellish”? Why does the Rider originally disagree?
10) Why does the Rider later change his mind and agree with TR’s statement on page 140?
11) One of the questions this book raises is whether the past (the Rider’s future) can be changed. How do the messages on the wall relate to this question? Do the messages change things for the Rider? In what ways?
12) Much of this book takes place in the fall, on and around Halloween. Consider some of the descriptions of setting in the book. How does this setting relate to some of the themes and issues explored in the book?
13) How are TR and the Rider different from their corpses? How are they similar?
14) On page 227, the Rider states, “All we had was our sense of ourselves as something separate, and if we lost that, then what?” In what ways is the Rider’s identity based on being separate? In what ways is he not separate? How might your own sense of your self be based on a (false?) notion of separateness? What happens if you no longer see yourself as “separate”?
15) Why does TR disappear from the Night chapters? How do you interpret the scene with Tercio on pages 234-238? What is the significance of this discussion with Tercio and how does this change things for the Rider?
16) Reviewers have described this book as one that “addresses bullying in a complex, subtle way.” Who is a bully in this book? How do others participate in this bullying? How could this cycle of bullying be stopped?
17) Why do you think Dan saw suicide as his only option? What was his big problem or fault? How could his death have been/be prevented?
18) What does the Rider finally understand about Dan? How do his feelings toward Dan change? Why is this significant, and how does this “cause” the final chapter?
19) How do you interpret the final chapter? In what ways have things changed (or not changed)?
20) Using examples from the book to support your answer, what is it that causes us to disconnect from one another? What allows us to connect with one another?
21) What questions does this book raise for you about life, free-will, and how to be in the world?
*If you come up with other good discussion questions, or other teaching materials for Backwards, please share it with me!