The Scar Boys

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
The Scar Boys Book Poster Image
Witty tale of a bullied teen boy saved by rock 'n' roll.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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. 


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.


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.


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."


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.

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. 

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byrayjay4 August 2, 2014

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 swe... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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