The Scar Boys

The Scar Boys

3.78 (2,368 ratings by Goodreads)
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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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Product details

  • 12-17
  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 147 x 216 x 27.94mm | 371g
  • New York, NY, United States
  • English
  • 1606844393
  • 9781606844397
  • 966,234

Review quote

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. --The New York Times

-- "Newspaper"
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About Len Vlahos

Len Vlahos is the Executive Director of BISG, and the former COO of the American Booksellers Association, where he worked for the past 20 years. At the ABA, he had overall responsibility for ABA's Winter Institute. So he knows booksellers and booksellers know him. Len has also worked in indie, chain, and university bookstores, was an on-air personality for a commercial radio station in Atlantic City, and worked for a time for Internet marketing guru Seth Godin. He was in a punk rock band in the mid-1980s. The Woofing Cookies toured and their music was played on dozens of college radio stations coast to coast. You can visit him online at and on Twitter @LenVlahos.
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Rating details

2,368 ratings
3.78 out of 5 stars
5 26% (608)
4 38% (888)
3 28% (659)
2 7% (166)
1 2% (47)

Our customer reviews

I decided to read this one because it was available on Netgalley and it had my attention at severely burned teenager. I am a sucker for things like that, so I don't think I even bothered to read more than that. But my journey with Harry, the main character ended up being so much more than that. Sure, he is scarred, his face and neck, and yes, he has to deal with a lot of bullying and pain. Also, there is the medical aspect of it which I eat up as well. But I got to see Harry evolve into loving who he is, no matter what he looks like on the outside, I got to see him form friendships with those who see past the deformity and to who he is. I got to see the unfailing support from his mother, and the difficulties his dad had with him, but that at the end of the day, he was there for him in the ways his dad was able. I got to watch Harry fall in love with music, and find his outlet and way to shine. I saw him learn to trust others, and the unbalaced, imperfect but true friendship with Johnny. At first, I had an issue with the essay format, but it quickly evolved into more of a narrative, and I was only slightly reminded when he addressed the nameless administrative, and yes, that gives you an idea of his voice and humor, which brought lighter moments when things got too serious. The events of the book are well paced, and there is either something going on with the band, interpersonal connection and friendship, or Harry's introspective journey to figuring out who he is below the scars, and accepting who he is fully, which means scars, music, humor, friendships, family and all. This is a no holds barred book though, it gets pretty gritty with his medical history, and his thoughts. It isn't all uplifting and positive messages, its sad, hard, and sometimes Harry is downright angry or making stupid decisions, but wouldn't you face that with a realistic teenager anyways? Also, his friendship with Johnny. Though I adored Johnny for taking Harry under his wing, and seeing past his scars, there are issues. Johnny is pretty controlling and manipulative, and Harry goes along with it all too often. I really appreciated when Harry finally stood up for himself, and am glad the friendship survived that, or it would have been too sad. But I think that this happens all too often in the real world and no one talks about it, so I am glad to see it explored. The ending is good, and I like the message, and how Harry comes to accept that his life will be hard, but it is worth it. Life is worth it, and music can heal and build bridges, but so can family and friends. Bottom Line: Gritty and emotional contemporary about love of music, and learning to accept yourself from a scarred teenage more
by Brandi Kosiner (Brandi Breathes Books)
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