Review: The Scar Boys – Len Vlahos

Release Date: January 21st 2014
Published By: Egmont
Pages: 256
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Purchase: Click here to purchase

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Synopsis: 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.

Review: When Harry was 8, he was almost struck by lightning, leaving his face covered in scars. As a result of these horrendous scars, Harry is treated like an outcast, is looked at with a mix of revolution and fake-sympathy and is mercilessly tormented at school. Harry may have scars that people cannot help but notice, but it is the scars that people cannot see that really define him.

Then, in eighth grade Harry meets Johnny – a popular and charismatic boy who is the first person who has looked at Harry since he got his scars and actually saw past them – Johnny saw Harry, not the scars that both revolt and intrigue everyone else. Harry finds the power of friendship, and when Johnny suggests that they start a band, he also finds his love for music. And this is where ‘The Scars Boys’ were created.

‘The Scar Boys’ is the beginning of the transformation for Harry. This is home – where he feels like he belongs, and where everyone else looks past his scars and sees him. But this journey will not be smooth sailing. My feelings for Harry changed throughout the story, as obviously Harry has suffered a lot in his life, both physical pain and emotional suffering, but I found myself going from admiring his strength to annoyed at his self-pity. I am not saying he didn’t have a reason to feel sorry for himself at times, but his inner monologue basically goes from “this will not define me” to “poor me, why is life like this and I just cannot possibility do anything to change anything”.

While I always love the message of music can heal all wounds, I actually preferred the story before the music came into it (and I never thought I would say I preferred something without music). I found that Harry’s story before The Scar Boys was about his suffering and I found it easy to connect to him. However, after he met Johnny and they created the band, I found that Harry basically turned into a “yes man”. He did everything to please Johnny, never voicing his own opinion in fear of Johnny’s rejection. Also, while it was mentioned (more than once) that Harry found himself within music, I didn’t feel it. Simply saying that music resonated within him done nothing to make me feel it. There was just not enough music in it for my liking; I wanted to connect to this side of the story as much as I was told Harry was.

So while I was told that Harry found a true-love of music, what I actually saw was that he was always saying that he hated that he was constantly a victim to bullying and abuse by the kids at school, but he seemed more than willing to accept it when it came from Johnny. And in a way, Johnny’s abuse was far worse than the sneers and remarks made by his classmates about his appearance – as Johnny’s abuse was never about his scars, his exploitation was directed straight to Harry’s need to be accepted. He basically moulded Johnny into his lackey, and Harry was more than willing to allow this happen (yes, he recognised that Johnny made the rules, and it was his job to follow them).

Harry’s journey through friendship, music and finding out what life really is about is not a simple one, and he doesn’t go through it smoothly. His feelings, and his thoughts, chop and change along the way, often going around in circles – it is a true representation of dealing with issues, relationships and life in general.

What I did enjoy was the format of this story. Harry’s story unfolds as he writing an essay for ‘Faceless Administration Personnel” for a university application. Going over his 250 word limit, Harry tells his story in a raw, introspective and humorous way, which allows us to see other elements to his story such as his own thoughts of himself and actions as he reflects on his story.

The Scar Boys is a gritty story filled with real life issues such as dealing with what life throws at you, finding acceptance and finding yourself. Harry learns along the way that life is as only good as you make it and how you choose to view it. He discovers that while compromises sometimes have to be made, that sometimes “good enough” actually is exactly what you were looking for all along. He learns that his scars do not define him, that friendships don’t have to dictate his life and that if he doesn’t let it, lightning never strikes twice.

 

Quotes:

“You can’t hide from the truth, and there’s no point in trying.”

“I was just as horrified of my face as everyone else. I was a freak.”

“I’m ugly and shy and my face, head, and neck are covered with hideous scars.”

“People would come and people would go, I realized then, but music would be there until the end of time.”

“I’m not sure where it will lead, but this time I understand that it’s not where I end up that matters, but how I get there.”

What do you think?

  • Cait D says:

    Waaaay over his 250 word limit, I guess. ;) This sounds really interesting! I’m marking it to-read. I hadn’t heard of it until now…I’m a big sucker for musical books, and also books about YA people who don’t look like “supermodels”. I get really tired of that trend.

  • I really liked this book, and it was interesting how he changed from the beginning of the story to the end. I also love how music is involved and how he was able to meet ‘friends’ through music. I’m glad the supporting characters changed too. I also like how this book wasn’t just entertaining, but there is a lesson to learn like you said. Harry is just awesome and I love how he came out of his shell.

    • Kristy says:

      I am glad you enjoyed this one Leigh. I really did like the lessons that had to be learned in this book (not just for Harry either). I think that hearing Harry’s thoughts looking back also added an extra layer to this and it was structured in a way that supported the story.

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