First of all, can we talk about this cover? Look at the guy. Hair slicked back, earring, motorcycle. Do I need to tell you how hot and bothered my sixteen year-old self got just looking at this? I can’t really explain why there is a 30-year old woman on the bike behind him. For real, there is no way she’s 18.
Ah….The Wind Blows Backward. The angstiest of all teen angst books. I loved this so much when I was 16! I really got off on the high drama and the deeeeeeep lurve between Spencer and Lauren. (Which is why I’m not too hard on the current Twilight-obsessed 16 year olds). This book was so dramatic and angsty, it was kind of like Twilight, minus the vampires plus a little suicidal ideation. Hello Drama!
The book is told from the POV of 18 year old high school senior, Lauren Anderson. She is an introverted bookworm (my favorite type of 18 year old!). In Junior High, she was best friends with a boy named Spencer. Lauren and Spencer bonded over fantasy novels. Then high school started and Spencer became HAWT and stopped talking to Lauren. He became a jock (track star) and hung out with pretty popular girls. One day, Lauren is working (shelving books at the library, natch) when Spencer approaches her with his girlfriend du jour, Vanessa. He starts a conversation about Walt Whitman with Lauren, and Vanessa is all like, “Let’s get out of here.” Lauren decides to check out the Whitman book Spencer was talking about.
After work, Lauren goes to the mall to wait for her BFF Casey to get off work. She sits at the food court and devours the Whitman. But you know, the food court at the mall is quite the jockocracy, so of course Spencer is there with his jock friends and Vanessa. Spencer is staring at Lauren and comes over and makes a comment about the Whitman. Casey gets off work and asks Lauren to come to a party that evening. Lauren hates parties, and it’s her mom’s birthday anyway, so she says no.
Lauren’s mom is a single lady, she has raised Lauren on her own since her husband left when Lauren was four. She’s quite the um…..slut. She’s a nice lady, but she’s had a LOT of lovers. Anyway, Lauren has plans to take mom to Clyde’s for her birthday. But mom decided to go out with her girlfriend, who has a new fella for mom to meet. Lauren gets pissed so she goes to the party with Casey (wearing the shirt she bought her mom for her birthday…zing!)
Some wasted meathead jock starts hitting on Lauren and shoving his tongue down her throat. When he turns to puke in the bushes (guys…that is a great way to get a lady!) Lauren runs away. Casey is gettin’ busy in the backseat of her car, so Lauren starts to walk home alone…when she is saved by none other than Spencer Adams. Lauren and Spencer go to McDonald’s and talk all about Very Deep Things. Like poetry and books. Spencer says he can’t talk to Vanessa (who has just broken up with him) or his guy friends about serious things, like “Stuff that’s just eating myself up inside,” (cry for help!). Lauren and Spencer make a date to go to the inner harbor in Baltimore the next day.
They go on their date the next day and it’s full of the type of dialog that really gets a 16 year old drama queen (i.e. Me in 1993.) going. They talk about books they liked as children, and talk about going to Never-Never Land. Spencer sees a motorcycle that is for sale and they talk about him buying it and them riding off to the Forever Place where you are never sad again. (gaaaag). They buy a balloon and while kissing at the harbor, it gets loose but they like it because it’s been liberated and set free (gaaaag).
When Lauren gets home, her mom is there with the dude from the previous night, Paul. Unlike many other guys her mom has brought him, Paul seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s a prison librarian and a vegetarian. He’s cooking dinner for them. Lauren’s mom seems to like him. Casey calls and Lauren admits to leaving the party with Spencer and spending that day with him in Baltimore. Casey warns Lauren that Spencer is “messed up,” and that he “has problems.” Of course, Lauren thinks Casey could not possibly understand someone as deep as Spencer. In some very obvious foreshadowing, Casey said that Spencer has been sleeping in class when he’s not cutting class, and doesn’t do his homework and quit track, etc. Lauren doesn’t care, because she’s in luuuuuurve.
Spencer skipped school the next day and went to buy the motorcycle. His parents won’t let him have it, so he parks it in Lauren’s apartment complex. Lauren lies and tells her mom that Spencer’s mom thinks the bike is an eyesore and won’t let it be parked in front of their house (a McMansion is a hoity toity neighborhood). Spencer gets to meet Lauren’s mom and she seems to like him. But when she questions him about his future and college, Spencer gets in a funk. When Spencer leaves, mom tells Lauren that she can tell that he is “insecure,” and that he reminds her of a “lost-needy kid.” And mom hopes he isn’t in to drugs. Which outrages Lauren that he mom would think that, but I think it kind of makes sense to at least consider it. Lauren informs her mom that Spencer doesn’t even drink.
Spencer continues to pop in and out of dark moods. These moods prevented them from double dating with Casey and her boyf, Jordan. Casey admitted to Lauren that she’s been sleeping with Jordan. Lauren and Spencer haven’t had the secks yet. One night they get close to it, and Lauren stops it, saying she doesn’t want to be like her mother.
“Nobody wants to be like their parents.” His voice was so low I could barely hear him.
“But how can you be sure you won’t be?” I asked him. “Maybe it’s in your genes, maybe you can’t help doing what they do.”
Spencer whirled around to stare at me. His face was as white and alien as the moon’s. “Don’t say that!,” he shouted, “Don’t you ever say that again.”
I backed away, scared of his eyes, of his raised voice, of his anger. I’d seen Spencer unhappy, moody, but never like this. He was a stranger, a boy I didn’t know.
Cry for help, anyone? Then he continues, that he feels like he can’t hold on much longer and that he’s losing his grip. Like he’s on the edge of a pit staring in, and he can barely pull back before things get better and the mood passes. Jesus christ, Lauren, are you that thick? She still doesn’t get it that her boyfriend is freaking suicidal! He’s BEGGING for help right now. Of course, it doesn’t help that immediately after saying that, he puts on a big smile, and is like,”Oh, I’m OK now.”
Then there’s a major to-do in English class. Their teacher, Mr. Walker, had them analyze the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Lauren had actually convinced Spencer to do his homework for once. And he’s the only one who figures out that the poem was about a man who wanted to die, but came to his senses (hello, foreshadowing!). Mr. Walker accuses Spencer of cheating. Of getting that analysis from a critical source. Mr. Walker doesn’t believe a student who has never handed in homework could have come up with that. Spencer walks out of class in one of his dark moods. For which Lauren blames HERSELF (wtf????) because she convinced Spencer to do the assignment. Good lord!
Casey tells Lauren that in psychology class, they were talking about suicide. The teacher mentioned that Hemingway killed himself, and so did his father. Casey said that Spencer, after have been silent all year in class, spoke up and asked if suicide runs in families. And he was “so intense” when he asked it. The teacher said that it does make you a risk if there was suicide in your family, much like alcoholism. After class, the teacher gave Spencer a referral to see the school counselor (Finally, someone who gets it!). Of course, Spencer threw it away. And Spencer’s mood lasts for days this time.
Spencer convinces Lauren to cut school and they go to his house. His house is immaculate. His mother, it turns out is extremely fastidious and cares very very much about what other people think. Spencer calls his father the GSF, the Great Stone Face. Spencer and Lauren are making out when…whoops, the mom comes home. Turns out the younger brother and sister don’t have school today. Mom is, naturally, angry and she and Spencer have it out. Spencer grabs Lauren and they run out of the house to the reservoir.
Spencer keeps talking about suicide, more as an idea rather than something he’s threatening. Then he tells Lauren the truth. The GSF is actually his stepfather. Spencer’s biological father shot himself when Spencer was only 6 years old, and Spencer found the body. Spencer hid in his bedroom, so his mom doesn’t know that he found the dad’s body, and his mom has been telling him all these years that the dad died of a heart attack. Now Spencer says he can “feel his dad burrowing through his bones,” but Lauren is surprisinly passive about this news. She does want him to talk to him mom, but is really accepting when he says he can’t.
So what to do with this news? Spencer spends the night and they have sex! Lauren’s mom is over at Paul’s house, so they have the apartment to themselves. Spencer admits to being a virgin, which is a surprise to Lauren. There is this whole weird thing where they are reciting lines from a children’s book (Rain Makes Applesauce) and that somehow gets them all horny. The next morning, Lauren’s mom walks into her room though, and sees her nekkid daughter in bed with nekkid Spencer. Rut roh. There’s a fight. Lauren’s mom makes her an appointment at the gyno to get on the pill. Though, according to Lauren, “what I feel for Spencer, can’t be measured out in condoms and birth control pills and visits to the gynecologist.” Ouch! My eyes hurt from rolling so hard.
Graduation day! Spencer keeps hounding Lauren to take a trip to California on the bike this summer, but he really won’t make a serious plan. After graduation, Lauren and Spencer go to a party at the local country club for the graduating seniors. Neither wants to go, but Spencer’s mom insists. Lauren hates it, she feels out of place. Spencer hates it because he generally hates those country club types (you and me both, Spence.)
Spencer and Lauren dip a little too much into the champagne and are a bit (or lot) tipsy. Spencer’s mom catches them at it and Spencer and his mom get in a screaming match in front of Richie Rich and all the other country club judgers. Spencer and Lauren run out of the party and Spencer steals his mom’s car. They drive back to Lauren’s apartment. Spencer wants to leave immediately for Cali, but Lauren wants to sober up and leave tomorrow. They fight and drunk Spencer takes off on his motorcycle alone. Though Lauren does convince him to at least wear his helmet (FORESHADOWING!!!!!).
The next day, Lauren hasn’t heard from Spencer and neither has his mom. Later that evening, Casey calls. Spencer wrecked the motorcycle and is at Shock Trauma. She picks Lauren up and drives her to Georgetown. Of course, Lauren can’t get in to see him, so she spends the night in the waiting room at Shock Trauma. And she has some words with Mrs. Adams, who is convinced this is all Lauren’s fault. So Lauren plays the trump card and tells Mrs. Adams that Spencer knows how his dad died, and that he found the body hours before she did. (Take that Ice Queen!).
Spencer is in Shock Trauma for weeks before coming to. He’s badly injured, but luckily no brain injury. Eventually, Mrs. Adams OK’s Lauren to come in to see Spencer. Lauren had been spending all day every day in the waiting room, even befriending an intern who passed her information (which he most likely shouldn’t have been doing). Eventually, Mrs. Adams and Lauren make nice. Mrs. Adams realizes she should have been honest with Spencer and shouldn’t have ignored his depression. Because of the facts of Spencer’s “accident,” he is forced to see the hospital psychiatrist.
Lauren’s mom and Paul get married. Spencer continues to suffer from moodiness, but seems to be getting a little better with help from his psychiatrist. He is considering working on mending his relationship with his mother. He knows he can’t run from his father, but he can try to face it. Then they do this weird balloon thing, where they release it in the air and it’s supposed to be some deep metaphor for Spencer letting go of his father. Well, if that’s all it takes!
- The author, Mary Downing Hahn is from Maryland. So am I, so this drives me crazy….when Lauren and Spencer have their date at the inner harbor, she keeps mentioning that the body of water is the Chesapeake Bay. But ALL Marylanders know that is not the Chesapeake, it’s the Patapsco River. I’ll forgive non-locals for not knowing that, but not a Maryland Lifer.
- When Spencer and Lauren first have the sex, there is a pretty funny scene where Lauren’s shoe gets stuck. The more she tries to unlace her shoe, the worse it gets until Spencer has to undo it for her….ruining her image of her perfect first time. But really, we all know that a first time is going to be fumbling and awkward, so in the end, it’s just a good story for her to tell.
- I just can’t get behind Lauren being so passive about Spencer’s many many many many many hints at suicide.
- Finally, someone has some good advice for Lauren though. After Spencer leaves on the bike, but before we know he hit a tree, Lauren’s mother says, “No matter how much you love someone, you can’t save him from himself. Spencer has problems only he can solve.” True ‘dat.
- The dialog in the book is truly Twilight-esque. Some examples: (when he hands Lauren a balloon) “Here you are, the world on a string. Just remember I gave it to you.” and “Oh my God, Lauren, if you ever stop loving me I will die.” and (about the first ride on the motorcycle) “It was like flying, breaking out, leaving the world.” and (when telling Lauren about his dad) ” I can’t forget it and neither can she, “(his mom). ” It’s always there, It’s in her eyes when she looks at me. Every little thing is a sign, something to worry about. ”
- Do 18 year old guys really talk like that?
- And for reals…they always talk about poetry. I can’t believe there are two 18 year olds at one high school who are so completely in to poetry.
- Here’s what I think of when I hear the name Walt Whitman. There’s a school in my county called Walt Whitman High School. Several years ago, my husband and I went to see Jon Stewart do some very funny stand up. A guy in the audience held up a sign asking Jon Stewart to speak at his graduation. Jon Stewart stopped his routine and asked the guy where he went to school, and the guy was like “Walt Whitman High.” Then Jon Stewart ragged on him for being in high school, then he was like “wait, did you say Walt Whitman High? What the hell is your mascot? The Dead Gay Poet?” Funny stuff…. nothing to do with the book, just something I though of EVERY time Whitman was mentioned, which was a LOT!
- Holy angst! This book is even angstier than I remembered! This is probably more angsty then every Lurlene McDaniel book combined. And how I loved me some Lurlene McDaniel!
- I’m just gonna go back to that cover. Because now (at 31) I think that Spencer looks a little doofusy, but I really pined for him 15 years ago. I still think Lauren looks like she’s my age now though.