Monday, February 10, 2014

The Scar Boys

The Scar Boys
Len Vlahos
Egmont, 2014     237 pgs     Grades 9-12
Realistic Fiction

Written in the form of a college admissions essay, Harry Jones recollects his life from, childhood through adolescence.  Severely disfigured as a child by the hands of neighborhood bullies, Harry survives isolation, health and drug problems, and further bullying.  Early in his teen years he meets Johnny, a confident and popular boy, and the two become unlikely best friends, eventually forming a punk band together.  The boys graduate from high school and go on a summer tour where disaster ensues and their relationship is stretched to the breaking point.  We get to see the workings of a band complete with the complicated dynamics of its members.  The book is set in suburbia New York in the 1980's and presents a slice of life from that time and place.  The ending offers no easy answers for Harry, but he does finally find peace with himself and embraces the healing power of music.

I'm a sucker for a book about a band.  Combine that with the 1980's New York setting (my generation and favorite location) and I'm in heaven.  Scar Boys brings up many serious issues.  I had a hard time getting through the beginning, where Harry is severely bullied and his life seems hopeless.  Author, Vlohos', humor throughout the book, even in the darkest parts, carried me through to happier days.  The 1980's  references may go over the heads of current teens, but the setting is important to the plot.  It would be a different book at a different place and time.  The other characters and band members are less developed than Harry and Johnny, but that reflects Harry's self-absorption that is typical of any eighteen-year-old.  Scar Boys is a quick read and, once you get past the first part, a lot of fun.  It has a surprising amount of depth, but manages to feel light and never bogs down.  Because of the strong language and content, I would recommend it for high school.  The book would appeal more to boys, but girls would like it too.  A perfect book for artsy "outsiders", any teen will relate to Harry's struggle to find his place in the world.  I love that music is the saving grace for Harry.  Hopefully that message alone will encourage troubled young people to pick up a guitar, or a paintbrush, or whatever healthy outlet at their disposal for their passion and creativity. The book is first and foremost, about the music.  Chapter titles are song titles that reflect the content of the chapters.  I love the chosen songs and hope that maybe young people will be led to listen to some of the selections. Scar Boys made me wish I could have a do-over and really learn to play that bass I just messed around with in high school.

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