The Scar Boys

Common Sense Media says

Witty tale of a bullied teen boy saved by rock 'n' roll.

Age(i)

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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers learn about pop culture and music of the 1980s. They also learn about post-traumatic stress disorder, the psychological effects of bullying, and the physical effects of lightning strikes and severe burns.  

Positive messages

Seek help after a trauma. Communicate with the people in your life who are most important to you. Speak up for yourself and be honest about your feelings, even when you think no one can possibly understand what you're going through. Playing and listening to music can help you deal with problems.

Positive role models

Some adults are caring and compassionate, but others -- school teachers and administrators in particular -- do nothing about the overt bullying of a disfigured teen. One parent resents his child. Teens lie to their parents about important matters. Some of the teen characters are good friends to one another, but sometimes they are selfish and cruel. Three adults are kind mentors to a troubled teen. Characters bribe a mechanic to pass a car inspection. 

Violence

One character is tied to a tree during a lightning storm. There are detailed descriptions of burn wounds and treatment. The book shows a lot of bullying, both verbal and physical: 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.

Sex

Characters kiss and make out a few times. One character glimpses two characters having sex, but it isn't described graphically. There's some talk about sex, and masturbation is mentioned once in passing.

Language

Profanities are sprinkled throughout the book but aren't used frequently. "F--k" and its variations, "crapped," "hell," "pissed," "bastard," "a--holes," "bulls--t," "s--t" and its variations,  "p---y," "balls," "d--k." Sex is referred to as "doing it" and "get[ting] laid."

Consumerism

Guitar brands Fender Stratocaster and Peavey, Ford Econoline, Converse, 7-Eleven, Big Gulp, Coke, McDonald's, John Deere, Marlboro, Oldsmobile Omega, and Matchbox. Movies Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, War Games, and The Right Stuff  and television shows M*A*S*H, In Search of..., Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Mayberry RFD -- all used for scene/era setting.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One scene of underage drinking at a party. Two characters smoke pot and smoke cigarettes once.

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. 

Parents say

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Kids say

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?

QUALITY
 

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. 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Len Vlahos
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:EgmontUSA
Publication date:January 21, 2014
Number of pages:256
Read alone:13
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of The Scar Boys was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 15 years old Written byrayjay4 August 2, 2014
AGE
14
QUALITY
 

Very good book, some parts a bit iffy

I think that Scar Boys was a very quick read, and I was constantly intrigued by both the writing and the subject matter/story. Yes, there was quite a bit of swearing, but in this day and age, most teens have at least heard all of these words before. I think that if you're comfortable with your children reading some swear words and things about sex, then it's a very good read regarding growing with difficulties and finding comfort in being unique, even when your difference is viewed negatively by most.
What other families should know
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