You can't hide from the truth, and there's no point in trying.
If, like I was, you're expecting to read about a disfigured and shunned hero beating the odds through the healing powers of 70s punk rock… yeah, you might need to browse some more because you ain't gonna find it here. It seems like that's what this is about… until it isn't. If you're looking for a clever coming-of-age story with a universal message on love, hope, acceptance and finding your self-worth… ummm, well it does have a message. It carries the hard and sad truth people like Harbinger "Harry" Jones lives with.
The Scar Boys unfolds as Harry's personal essay written for the Faceless Administration Personnel in the University of Scranton. He overshoots the 250-word limit, instead delivering a 250-something page book chronicling his 18-year life experiences starting with a freak lightning accident followed by his methadone addiction at 8. Living the life of a monster, Harry's pretty much a perennial magnet for bullying and abuse that is until he met his best friend-to-be Johnny, who in an act of seeming kindness, forms a band with Harry on guitars, him as the frontman and 2 other characters to complete the cast. As anyone could've guessed (okay, maybe not anyone, just the pessimistic and suspicious lot) this eventually led to a more personal form of bullying and abuse courtesy of Johnny, who's apparently an extra-crispy asshole.
This read quite easily despite the non-linear format of the storytelling. It did feel a little sterile because the nature of Harry's narration severely limits the dialogue to the minimum and his emotional attachment towards the scenes were colored with biased retrospect. I liked this book best before the band storyline came into the picture, I loved the insight this gave on his family before and after the tragedy.
The introduction of music as an element in the story was abrupt and awkward. There was no set up for it, no mention of either characters as being musicians, then something happened to make Harry sad and Johnny thought forming a band would cheer him up. Next thing you know they're playing gigs, then cutting a single, then touring. Save for the chapters' titles being song titles, I didn't feel music as that integral to the story. It felt pushed far into the background where it could've been substituted by something else (they could've been stage actors or ballerinas) and the story's structure of Harry's Pity Party would still stand. More attention was actually paid towards using mechanic speak as in-your-face metaphors which was interesting but felt a bit of a letdown for me.
More than a letdown, this was a depressing as fuck book. I've read my share of depressing, but this was depressing not for the usual tropes but because it chose to espouse helplessness and compromise in a manner telling me that its perfectly okay to do this if you're a disfigured freakshow.
Whatever happened to grabbing life by the balls? Carpe diem?
Not to mention the manner in which this message was delivered where you're led to believe you're reading this kind of story, setting you up for some expectations, driving you to certain conclusions only to swerve in the last minute where you end up facing the reality that falling for these is what your cliched and the stereotypical reads have made you into. Any other story, any other ending and I would've declared it clever but this just had me sad and pissed. The worst offense was the fact that Harry's parting words were "That's good enough for me." and he actually believes this.
Nobody wants to read about a coward who ended up… a coward. And I sleep easier knowing I sleep because I chose to and not solely because some butterfly in China decided to flap its wings.
ARC provided by Egmont USA thru NetGalley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. Quotes may not appear in the final edition.