A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Scar Boys is a coming-of-age story about a teen, Harry Jones, who was disfigured in a bullying incident at age 8 and has continued to be bullied at school. In discovering rock, new wave, and punk music (the novel is set in the 1980s), Harry finds a form of self-expression and a refuge from the pain and unhappiness in his life. Harry and his friend Johnny form a band that goes on the road. Characters swear a little (including "f--k" and "s--t"), drink once, and try marijuana and cigarettes once. There are many scenes of verbal and physical bullying, including name-calling, shoving, punching, kicking, and a threatened assault with a lit blowtorch. In a heated argument, one character slaps another. A drunken-driving crash is described in detail. A couple of the characters make out and have sex, but it isn't described graphically. The novel shows how kids and their relationships grow and change as they move out of their preteens and become young adults.
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What's the story?
Harbinger "Harry" Jones suffers severe emotional and physical scars resulting from a bullying incident when he was 8. The incident and continued bullying leave him unable to fully cope with life until he makes a friend, Johnny, who introduces him to rock, punk, and new wave music. In music, Harry can express his sorrow and rage, and he can forget about his scars. The two teens form a band, The Scar Boys, and enjoy some success. When the band hits the road for a short tour, they meet some interesting characters and have many adventures, good and bad. The novel is set in the early to mid-1980s and features many bands and New York clubs of that era.
Is it any good?
THE SCAR BOYS is a witty and engaging novel about a lonely, outcast boy who suffers burns and disfigurement from a childhood bullying incident. The book is Harry's attempt to write a 250-word college admissions essay. He abandons the word count and spills his life to the FAP (his term for "Faceless Admissions Professional"). What follows is an emotional journey through Harry's post-traumatic stress and the emotional growth he experiences in forming and maintaining friendships. Harry is a funny and sarcastic narrator. His and Johnny's adventures in listening to, writing, and performing music are exquisitely detailed by author Len Vlahos, who captures the thrill of musical discovery that comes with finding artists who rock your world.
The novel realistically portrays the excitement and heartbreak of the way relationships grow and change through middle school and into the teen years. Vlahos shows how a horrific event creates a ripple effect of trauma, resentment, and guilt through the victim's life and through the lives of those around him. Vlahos does a tremendous job of dealing with these serious themes while still providing an enjoyable read that has many exciting and fun moments.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullying. Have you or has anyone you know been bullied? Do you empathize with Harry, who never tells anyone or tries to get justice, or does his silence frustrate you? What should you do if you get bullied? What should you do if someone else gets bullied?
What do you think of the book being told in the form of a college-application essay? Do you think that's a clever way to frame the story? How is that approach different from a traditional form of a novel?
Pick three songs that help you through times of sadness and anger. What about those songs speaks to you?
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