The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
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A bullying incident leaves Harry scarred and terrified of lightning storms. When a popular boy suggests that he and Harry form a band, Harry jumps at the idea. But as Harry gets to know Johnny better, he realizes that their friendship isn’t the salvation he once thought. As long as Harry is willing to play the role Johnny carves out for him, everything will be fine. When the band’s success takes them all by surprise, Harry’s world opens wider than ever before, and for the first time, he finds he might not need Johnny to bridge the gap between him and everyone else. Stepping into his own spotlight changes his relationships in ways beyond what he imagined.
The story begins as a 250 word essay on a college application that Harry is writing. It quickly goes way beyond the required word count as Harry explains what’s led him to apply for college. I like the way the college essay frames the story. It struck me as vaguely reminiscent of the way S. E. Hinton uses a similar approach in The Outsiders, in which the protagonist writes his story as an English assignment for school. (True story: I once finished reading The Outsiders, which closes with Ponyboy repeating the opening lines of the story as the beginning of his English homework. I then flipped the book over and read it again trying to imagine him crafting it as his school paper. I know. I didn’t get out much.)
From the get-go, Scar Boys is a gritty, brutally honest tale about a boy whose life was irrevocably changed when neighborhood bullies tied him to a tree and left him. The tree was struck by lightning, leaving Harry with terrible scars that even challenge his own father’s love for him. So it gets a bit dark. But at his core, Harry is a pretty sweet guy who wants what we all want: love, friendship, adventure. I liked that the story isn’t strictly about him recovering from his childhood trauma, but that Vlahos takes us so much further into the murky depths of a complicated friendship. What price is Harry willing to pay to continue his friendship with Johnny? I like that Johnny isn’t the selfless charmer that we initially believe him to be. I loved where Vlahos took Johnny and Harry’s relationship – the breaking and redemption the boys both face.
I think I had some really ridiculous expectations going into the story because of the hype I’d seen. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy it, and I thought it was pretty great. I think I had expected an earth-shattering, life-altering experience, and it wasn’t that for me. While I think it was really well done, it won’t live on in my top favorites, and I’m a little (perhaps foolishly) disappointed because I kind of expected it to. Over all, though, there were a lot of great moments and great lessons about courage, friendship and love. I enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading Vlahos’ next, Scar Girl.
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Harry gives a very brief description when he (accidentally) witnesses his best friend having sex with a girl. Harry mentions masturbation.
Bullies tie Harry to a tree and leave him during a storm. He is left with horrendous scars when lightning strikes the tree. Since then, he’s had a lot of trouble with bullies picking on him, but nothing so extreme as that first incident.
Teen drinking and references to smoking pot.