At the age of 8, Harry Jones is horribly burnt in a lightning strike. He was never a particularly popular boy, but now his severely scarred appearance puts him at the bottom of the social order, and he is relentlessly bullied and friendless. And then one day, Johnny McKenna – full of “Reaganesque charm” – befriends him and his life changes dramatically. As Johnny’s sidekick, he has a social group, though he understands the role he must play with Johnny – always kowtowing to him, never talking back or questioning. After a disastrous encounter with a girl, Harry’s gloom is lifted when Johnny suggests they form a band. And his life changes again as Harry discovers the power of music. The Scar Boys, as Harry names them, get good and then even better when they replace their bassist with a girl, Cheyenne Belle. But once they go on tour, the splits begin to show.
Written as a college application – going considerably over the requested 250 words – the novel’s strength is in the characters. In what is a quick read, only 237 pages, the author manages to breath life into a large cast of flesh and blood people, even those in minor roles like the drummer and his father. As Harry reflects on his adolescence and his relationships with the band members and his parents, we can feel his development from social pariah to the young man who, with perspective, understands he must take control of his own life.
This immensely enjoyable read is set in the 80s, drawing on the author’s own band experience, but is still relatable for today’s teens. It’s for anyone who has ever felt the world was against them or who has felt like a “freak”, for anyone who has found a way out through playing or listening to music, for anyone growing up from teen to adulthood.
A nice bonus for older readers is the evocation of the era, and each short chapter is headed up with a song appropriate to its contents, giving a playlist or a soundtrack to the novel.