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The Scar Boys

Review

The Scar Boys

Harry Jones does not think that 250 words is adequate space to convey himself to the Faceless Admissions Professional at the other end of his college application. So he decides to make his own rules. Instead, he writes a 250-page essay. That essay is the story found in Len Vlahos’s THE SCAR BOYS. 

Harry survived a lightning strike as a child, but his face was left burned and disfigured. He endured years of social isolation and bullying until the generally well-liked Johnny McKenna took him under his wing. After being rejected by his crush, Harry is noticeably upset. Johnny suggests that they start a band. Neither of them knows how to play an instrument, but that is no barrier; Johnny will sing, and Harry takes up guitar lessons. Harry names the band The Scar Boys in honor of his disfigured face. 

THE SCAR BOYS makes you think about the coping strategies you choose for the hand fate deals you

Weeks of listening to records in Johnny’s bedroom and the acquisition of a bass player and drummer mean that the band can start gigging. Harry is swept away by the thrill of playing onstage. He feels that he can transcend his earthly limitations when he gets lost in the music. Granted, he still wears enormous hats and sunglasses onstage and often faces away from the audience to avoid discovery. Johnny doesn’t mind how Harry looks. Johnny seems to think this is part of their charm. And it is what Johnny thinks that matters in The Scar Boys. 

As the story progresses, Harry becomes more and more aware that Johnny is not the friend he makes himself out to be. Johnny calls all the shots. Johnny takes what Harry wants. Johnny has to be right, especially when Harry is the one challenging him.

This is a book about friendship and the things we do to feelokay. For Harry, the main thing is music. Since music allows him to escape from the reality of his disfigurement, if only for an hour or so, it gives him a space in which to feel not only normal, but like some sort of rock god. But there is a downside to all this --- Harry has never been academically inclined, and his grades slip further after The Scar Boys get together. He hopes to continue to pursue music after high school ends as it takes him to a place where he feels good about himself. 

While the conceit that this book is actually a college admissions essay gives us a reason and context for Harry to explain who he is, this device means that the dialogue is limited. Harry’s descriptions of the other characters are filtered through his own memory. The result is a narrative that relies more on telling than showing and leaves many of the characters feeling two-dimensional. Even Harry struggles to develop beyond the trope of the lost, lonely boy who wants to be a rock star and get the manic pixie dream girl.

The most interesting part of the book was the toxic relationship between Harry and Johnny that started out looking like salvation. Harry is the most compelling when he is dealing with Johnny. Although the narrative device limits the possibilities of character complexity, THE SCAR BOYS makes you think about the coping strategies you choose for the hand fate deals you.

Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on January 17, 2014

The Scar Boys
by Len Vlahos