The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Publisher: Egmont USA
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: set in 70s/80s, horrific accident, bullying, friendship, male POV, music, bands
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)
Summary: When Harry was 8 years old, a few boys tie him to a tree during a thunderstorm and he is severely burned when lightning strikes and the tree catches on fire. For most of his childhood and teenage life, he is a loner until a popular kid named Johnny butts in on some bullies bothering him. Later, they form a band, make new friends, and actually go on tour. The story of The Scar Boys is actually Harry’s personal essay for a college. Spoiler: he goes over the recommended 250 words.
If you know my reading preferences, you know I love a story told from a male POV. I also love reading books set in another decade. The Scar Boys takes place over the 70s and 80s from the time that Harry is horrifically injured by a lightning bolt at 8 years old until the time he is in high school, on the road with his band (Scar Boys) and telling the entire story in a personal college essay.
The detail that struck me most about this book is Harry. He doesn’t mope, he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself because he’s different from all the kids around him, he just is. It’s not to say he’s unaffected. Harry knows people look at him strangely, he’s aware that his dad doesn’t treat him as a father should, and it’s not until some assholes come up to him in school that things start to take a turn in his life.
Suddenly, he is best friends with Johnny. Hanging out all the time, jogging together, and even going to parties. Then totally on a whim (and as a way to get over a girl) Johnny suggests they start a band. Johnny and Harry totally immerse themselves in every kind of music available, find other members, write original songs and I was shocked to see — the band becomes pretty successful. Gigs at CGBG’s? Huge deal! So when the idea of touring for the summer materializes (an idea that Johnny takes credit for), a majority of the book becomes about prepping for the tour and all the little conflicts and successes that come along with it.
I loved how Harry gained confidence through music. Even though he was definitely experiencing growth, he still had a ways to go. I had no idea if he could trust Johnny because Johnny seemed like the kind of guy who only felt good when he put others down. He didn’t always play by the rules. This was conflicting for Harry because even though Johnny didn’t act like a good guy a lot of the time… he was the catalyst for Harry’s happiness. He helped Harry find music.
The Scar Boys has absolutely no airs about it. It’s simply the story of a kid coming into his own, facing unique challenges and putting his life into motion. Harry’s narration (especially his observations) reminded me a little of the Jean Shepard narration for A Christmas Story or Daniel Stern’s narration of The Wonder Years. He had already lived the story as he was telling it, but he was able to accurately express his insecurities, the choices he made, and how music became a lifesaver.
This was a really enjoyable debut! Most of all I loved how Harry’s journey to move forward after the lightning strike felt refreshing and new. It never felt forced or over-dramatized, and at points, it was almost like he didn’t realize he hadn’t dealt with the big picture yet and BOOM, there was more work to do.