The Scar Boys
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--to "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 eighth 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.
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About the Author
"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." --starred, School Library Journal-- (1/1/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"Harbinger Robert Francis Jones composes an essay about his life to the Admissions Officer at the University of Scranton. As a young child, Harry was tied to a tree which is struck by lightning, resulting in both physical and mental scars. He becomes reclusive until a peer involves him in a rock group which eventually tours throughout the South. Harry's teen years are filled with triumphs and tragedies exaggerated by his misshapen appearance. This book addresses an adolescent facing an extremely difficult psychological and sociological challenge. Vlahos examines the brutal consequences of bullying. A song's title, its composer, and performers introduce each chapter. This is an uplifting novel for students who prefer thought-provoking contemporary realistic fiction. Recommended." --Library Media Connection-- (5/1/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"In Len Vlahos's debut novel, the Scar Boys are a punk band from Yonkers that hits the road riding a rusty van and working out personal problems while playing gigs in college towns as far south as Georgia. 'Music to the rescue, ' muses Harry, the book's narrator. Playing and touring demand creativity and commitment, forcing the Scar Boys -- actually three guys and a girl -- to come of age in this wry, stylish tale.
"There are no American idols here, not even an Internet, so the mid-1980s setting -- which includes CBGB -- might feel prehistoric to contemporary young adult readers. But clubs and technology come and go. Music is forever.
"Harry (formally Harbinger Robert Francis Jones) was burned during a lightning storm as a kid and grew up with a wrecked face, zero friends in middle school and a deep, dark fear of the world. After he meets the gifted, charismatic Johnny, they play every LP they can get their hands on. 'We should start a band, ' Johnny says. To Harry, 'it was like a magic phrase -- abracadabra, hocus-pocus and open sesame all rolled into one.'
Harry struggles with a hovering mother and a father who alternates between overbearing and incompetent while flashing unexpected bursts of affection at a son he doesn't understand. Harry's dad and Johnny, the band's ambitious lead singer -- a loyal friend, and at the same time a bit of a self-serving rat -- are the most original and satisfying characters. With Richie, the blue-collar drummer, and Cheyenne, who plays an edgy and spirited bass guitar, all four Scar Boys are well-etched original characters. But though they're talented and hard-working, the band isn't ever going to be discovered; they discover themselves, and one another, during their sub-rock-star summer on the road." --TheNew York Times-- (1/10/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"Harbinger 'Harry' Jones was horribly disfigured in a childhood accident involving lightning and a flaming tree branch, but despite years of therapy, he has never been able to move beyond his mangled appearance. He finds some comfort and even popularity as the lead guitarist of the punk outfit The Scar Boys--with his best friend, Johnny, on vocals; stalwart Ritchie on drums; and enigmatic Chey on bass--but it's still not enough to make him feel like anything but a freak. Playing in the band is the only time Harry feels normal, so he urges the Scar Boys to embark on a tour, which radically changes their lives and gives Harry a healthy dose of perspective. Vlahos' debut has all the hallmarks of a coming-of-age story, but the firstperson narration is compelling enough that it still feels fresh. Harry's obsession with punk music will appeal to music lovers, while his journey to accept himself for who he is--scarred face and all--is one that will likely resonate with any teen trying to find his way in the world." --Booklist-- (1/1/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"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." --Publishers Weekly-- (11/4/2013 12:00:00 AM)
"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." --Kirkus Reviews