The Scar Boysby Len Vlahos
In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay--help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and
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.
Publishing exec Vlahos debuts with a coming-of-age/rock-and-roll novel mashup written in the form of a college admissions essay (one that blows past the 250-word limit). Left physically and psychologically scarred by a childhood accident involving bullies and lightning, Harbinger “Harry” Jones is ignored or considered a “freak” at school. In middle school, he’s befriended by a kid named Johnny, and in high school they start a band. When they take the show on the road, life becomes immeasurably more entertaining, especially with crushworthy Cheyenne on board as the Scar Boys’ bassist. Injuries aside, Harry’s trajectory loosely mirrors Vlahos’s time as the guitarist for a touring punk/pop band, so details like how to cut a record, land a gig at the now-defunct club CBGB (the novel is set in the 1970s and ’80s), or rework a tour when the van breaks down strongly resonate. This, along with the author’s clear passion for music, balances out a few clunky structural elements, such as flashbacks within the already retrospective narration, as Harry learns to open up to himself and others. Ages 14–up. Agent: Sandra Bond, Bond Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Gr 8 Up—Harry Jones opens his story by submitting a 250-word essay to a college admissions board-only he goes a book length over the limit. In so doing he recounts his traumatic past: the terrifying scene in which neighborhood bullies tied him to a tree and left him as a storm rolled in…and how the tree was struck by lightning, leaving him with disfiguring burn scars all over his face. He then describes his physical and mental recovery: how he formed a band that toured all over the country…and even kissed a girl. Set in the early 1980s, Vlahos's narrative flows easily and rings true. If Brent Runyon's The Burn Journals (Knopf, 2004) and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Pocket Books, 1999) could be melded into a single work, it might be this one. Distinguished in every way.—Leah Krippner, Harlem High School, Machesney Park, IL
Harry is used to making people squirm. When others see his badly scarred face, there is an inevitable reaction that ranges from forced kindness to primal cruelty. In this first-person tale written as an extended college entrance essay, Harry has no intention of sparing readers from this discomfort. He recounts the trauma of his young life spent recuperating from the act of childhood bullying that left him a burn victim. In middle school, he meets Johnny McKenna, the first person to seem to offer him genuine friendship. Over the years, Harry finds strength by Johnny's side, following along with his decisions, from the arbitrary to the life-changing, and together, they form a punk-rock band called the Scar Boys. With the band on tour as high school ends, the true dynamic of their friendship, Johnny's less-than-altruistic need for Harry, and Harry's ownership of himself in all his disfigured glory begin to emerge. This leads up to a heartbreaking tragedy that bonds the two boys in understanding. Though the use of the college essay to present the story may seem trite, the unflinching honesty of the narrative and subtle development of the compelling characters make up for the use of this device. Etches its way onto the heart and leaves a mark. (Fiction. 14 & up)
Meet the Author
Len Vlahos is the Executive Director of BISG, and the former COO of the American Booksellers Association, where he worked for the past 20 years. At the ABA, he had overall responsibility for ABA's Winter Institute. So he knows booksellers and booksellers know him. Len has also worked in indie, chain, and university bookstores, was an on-air personality for a commercial radio station in Atlantic City, and worked for a time for Internet marketing guru Seth Godin. He was in a punk rock band in the mid-1980s. The Woofing Cookies toured and their music was played on dozens of college radio stations coast to coast. You can visit him online at www.lenvlahos.com and on Twitter @LenVlahos.
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I decided to read this one because it was available on Netgalley and it had my attention at severely burned teenager. I am a sucker for things like that, so I don't think I even bothered to read more than that. But my journey with Harry, the main character ended up being so much more than that. Sure, he is scarred, his face and neck, and yes, he has to deal with a lot of bullying and pain. Also, there is the medical aspect of it which I eat up as well. But I got to see Harry evolve into loving who he is, no matter what he looks like on the outside, I got to see him form friendships with those who see past the deformity and to who he is. I got to see the unfailing support from his mother, and the difficulties his dad had with him, but that at the end of the day, he was there for him in the ways his dad was able. I got to watch Harry fall in love with music, and find his outlet and way to shine. I saw him learn to trust others, and the unbalaced, imperfect but true friendship with Johnny. At first, I had an issue with the essay format, but it quickly evolved into more of a narrative, and I was only slightly reminded when he addressed the nameless administrative, and yes, that gives you an idea of his voice and humor, which brought lighter moments when things got too serious. The events of the book are well paced, and there is either something going on with the band, interpersonal connection and friendship, or Harry's introspective journey to figuring out who he is below the scars, and accepting who he is fully, which means scars, music, humor, friendships, family and all. This is a no holds barred book though, it gets pretty gritty with his medical history, and his thoughts. It isn't all uplifting and positive messages, its sad, hard, and sometimes Harry is downright angry or making stupid decisions, but wouldn't you face that with a realistic teenager anyways? Also, his friendship with Johnny. Though I adored Johnny for taking Harry under his wing, and seeing past his scars, there are issues. Johnny is pretty controlling and manipulative, and Harry goes along with it all too often. I really appreciated when Harry finally stood up for himself, and am glad the friendship survived that, or it would have been too sad. But I think that this happens all too often in the real world and no one talks about it, so I am glad to see it explored. The ending is good, and I like the message, and how Harry comes to accept that his life will be hard, but it is worth it. Life is worth it, and music can heal and build bridges, but so can family and friends. Bottom Line: Gritty and emotional contemporary about love of music, and learning to accept yourself from a scarred teenage boy.
If you asked me what The Scar Boys is about, I would say it's about friendship and growing up and music, and the awful things that can happen in life that can have the best end results. The Scar Boys is a coming-of-age book written by Len Vlahos, who was a guitarist in a band called Woofing Cookies in the 80’s. His experiences greatly influence many aspects of The Scar Boys. The Scar Boys is about a boy named Harry who is telling his story through an essay for his college application. He wants them to know who he really is, and doesn't think 250 words are enough to convey himself. His story starts with when he was almost struck by lightning, which resulted in some severe injuries that leave him covered in scars. Harry's story is full of woe, with his surgeries and counseling, and the bullies at school who seem to always choose him as a target, up until the point where a confident boy named Johnny takes him under his wing. Their friendship forms fast and easily, and to cheer Harry up, Johnny suggests they start a band. Johnny gathers the bandmates, and before long they’re writing songs and practicing in Harry's parent's garage. Music becomes his main escape and his passion. My favorite part of this book was how Harry was constantly learning, whether it was about himself, or other people. He was always trying to move forward despite his struggles with his appearance and his childhood trauma. I highly enjoyed this book. I cried, I laughed, and I adored how this book made me feel, and it really does make you feel everything Harry feels. I doubt I would have been as invested in this book if the narration wasn't so compelling. I was hooked and drawn in by the easy voice and writing style that made it feel like Harry was sitting next to me, telling me his story. -Jessica T.