We were asked to read this lovely book by none other than Jessica Powers, one of the masterminds working for Cinco Puntos Press.
There are 5 great finalists up for the William C. Morris Debut Award, and we were lucky enough to be asked to read two of them, and this was one of them!
January 4th, 2015
The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
This was the first book I started in 2015, and finished. The Scar Boys follows the exploits of Harbinger(Harry) Jones, a teenager in the 1980's.
What makes his sorry painful, yet heartfelt, is that he's also a burn victim. I believe 60% or more of his body was burned, due to a prank when he was 8 years old, so now he lives with the insecurity of being the only person he knows like him.
Let me just say, The Scar Boys was an excellent read. There was something about the story telling that seems to be missing in Young Adult, let alone any book these days.
I did have some concerns. I didn't feel as though it was diverse enough for me. However, it is well written, and tells the story in the best way a story should be told.
I did enjoy the pacing of the book. Harry was a pretty good narrator for a teenage boy. He did speak or mention flashbacks a lot, but they always made sense to the point he was trying to make. I wasn't expecting the ending he got, and I do think I would've preferred it go a different way for him, but I was glad he was at the very least happy. I couldn't have wished for a better outcome throughout his story.
His character was relatable, but un-relatable at the same time. He was marginalized because of his appearance, and people weren't exactly nice about it. Apart of me knew how he felt. I can recall getting weird looks or disgusting comments, as a child when race was concerned, and while I don't think I could ever compare that to being a burn victim, I felt his pain.
He was however a middle class white boy. I won't say that made him unlikeable, but he didn't have a ton of experience outside of his own world. But what I will say, he did acknowledge that. He was well aware he didn't come across a ton of people of color where he was from, and he acknowledged that dangerous things happen in areas where there are mainly white communities too.
His accident did happen in his own neighborhood after all, and was supposedly a prank gone wrong.
Everything about Harry's back story made me understand him and his journey as a teenager, and how he dealt with his friends.
He was best friends with Johnny, a person who both loved and manipulated him at the same time. It was difficult to say no to Johnny, because he felt as though his life started when they became friends in the 8th grade. Johnny was a good friend, and cared about Harry, but he was also toxic, and used to getting his own way.
Johnny made a very worthy antagonist. Antagonists are not always meant to be enemies. It could be your wife, your neighbor, your boss, and in this case, you best and at one point, only friend.
Im used to seeing this type of narrative amongst romantic couples in books, so it surprised me that it happened within a platonic friendship.
I have a bias amongst first person, so I felt as though I loved his voice. He seems like a person I'd like to be friends with =)
I have no qualms about editing. Traditional published, so it has the advantage.
Now the diversity was the biggest concern for me.
I normally don't read books with all white casts anymore, ever since I started seeking and reading diversely. Harry just made it, being a character with a physical deformity, but it bothered me that living in New York, not one character knew anyone but white people.
I loved Harry, but what I didn't love about him, was that he was the only character(at the time) with any sort of marginalization.
I take that back. There was one girl, who was their bassist(Cheyenne). And I was glad that her presence was there, otherwise it would've just been white boys.
But since Harry is the only burn victim in the book, I can't help but feel as though he's othered a lot. Perhaps if there had been some situation where he'd known someone he was closer to in the hospital, who had been similar to him, it wouldn't be as a big deal.
But since it's set almost 30 years ago, people weren't always as nice about how uncomfortable they were when they looked at him.
Culture clearly has changed, because a burn victim's appearance doesn't bother me in the slightest. And because it doesn't bother me, I can't understand why it bothers other people so much, that they slight his the way that they do.
I think you have to read to the end to know that Harry's not alone in this, but I would've liked to see more of that in the book, as opposed to the end. =)
I think the titles is catchy and matches the plot of the book. The cover you have to really look at, to notice the significance between the guitar and lightning bolts. But I think it's cute. Most the character names didn't stand out much, but only because they're plain outside of Harry's full name. Harry didn't describe characters in great detail the way he did Cheyenne.
Also, I wish I'd been more of a punk rock fan. All the chapter titles referenced songs around that time, but Im either not old enough, or I just prefer classic rock, because I didn't know a lot of them. For true punk music fans, you'd really get more out of the chapter titles than I did.
Would definitely read this again. I hope there are stories like this with more diversity as well, but this was a really great read. I always slump when it comes to contemporary YA, but I loved it!
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