Sunday, March 2, 2014

Review: Scar Boys

Title: Scar Boys
Author: Len Vlahos
Publisher: Egmont USA
Pages: 256
Review Copy: Digital ARC from Edelweiss
Availability: On shelves now

A severely burned teenager. A guitar. Punk rock. The chords of a rock 'n' roll road trip in a coming-of-age novel that is a must-read story about finding your place in the world...even if you carry scars inside and out.

 In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay--help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and test scores--Harbinger (Harry) Jones goes way beyond the 250-word limit and gives a full account of his life.

The first defining moment: the day the neighborhood goons tied him to a tree during a lightning storm when he was 8 years old, and the tree was struck and caught fire. Harry was badly burned and has had to live with the physical and emotional scars, reactions from strangers, bullying, and loneliness that instantly became his everyday reality.

The second defining moment: the day in 8th grade when the handsome, charismatic Johnny rescued him from the bullies and then made the startling suggestion that they start a band together. Harry discovered that playing music transported him out of his nightmare of a world, and he finally had something that compelled people to look beyond his physical appearance. Harry's description of his life in his essay is both humorous and heart-wrenching. He had a steeper road to climb than the average kid, but he ends up learning something about personal power, friendship, first love, and how to fit in the world. While he's looking back at the moments that have shaped his life, most of this story takes place while Harry is in high school and the summer after he graduates. -- Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: Harry's story certainly grabbed my attention with the freak lightning event and the cruelty that led up to it. The combination of music references and humor is what kept me reading. Initially, I was only glancing at the song titles heading the chapters and imagining what was to come. After a few chapters though, I started looking them up on Youtube and listening.  Sometimes I even watched the videos. Many were videos that I haven't seen since watching MTV in my earlier years. For me, that was a nice part of my reading experience. Sometimes it delayed my reading and sometimes I read with the songs as background, but it created a unique reading situation. One example is the melancholy Cat Stevens song that related to the relationship Harry dealt with in that chapter. The title fit the events in that chapter, but the sound of the song matched too and added atmosphere like the soundtrack of a movie.

The book takes place in the 80s. Some of the references may be lost on teens now such as Mork and Mindy, but overall, I don't think that they will miss much. Many of the pop culture that shows up goes beyond that time frame like Star Wars, Hitchhiker's Guide, and the Grinch. Most of the music is easily accessible online too especially since Vlahos set up a Spotify playlist which I didn't know about until after I finished reading.

I appreciated that this book looks at the relationship between guy friends. Harry gives his friendship with Johnny a close-up inspection throughout the book. How did they become friends, why are they still friends, what do they each get out of it, and most importantly, is this a relationship that should continue?

I essentially read this book in one sitting and enjoyed the journey with much laughter. I would recommend Scar Boys to realistic fiction fans and anyone interested in garage bands or rock music in general.

This book would match up well with Eric Gansworth's If I Ever Get Out of Here and Patrick Flores-Scott's Jumped In which also feature music and male friendship.

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