Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rock Out with the Scar Boys

How can you convince someone to accept you in 250 words or less? You can't. So Harbinger decides to tell his story. In Len Vlahos' breakout novel, he gives Harbinger a voice, even though he isn't the kind of you man to stand up and shout... or at least he wasn't, until now. 

With a name like Harbinger, and a history behind that name that would make you sob, Harry was bound to live a unique life. But how unique?

He was almost struck by lightning. 

He wished he was struck by lightning.

He was a methadone addict. 

This all happened before he was 10 years old.

When a group of bullies tied him to a tree, they didn't expect or care about the lightning storm that shot a bolt directly at the same tree where he was tied. He wasn't struck by lightning, but the bolt sheared off the top of the tree in a fiery ball of flames and dropped it on an incapacitated Harry. This leads to months of hospitals, reconstructive surgeries that didn't make him look normal again, and a lifetime of hiding his face from disgusted looks. But he never gave up the kids who tied him to the tree. He was scared to death of those kids. But they were probably more scared of him than he was of them. 

Harry's life is eventful and uneventful all in one. He doesn't do anything. He isn't a stellar student. His situation is a burden on his parents' lives and marriage. He doesn't even have any friends. Until Johnny moves to his town and his school. Johnny is like an uncontainable force that changes everything in his wake, including Harry. When Harry is rejected by a girl, Johnny says, "Let's start a band." While it seemed out of place and not entirely comforting, a band was exactly what Harry needed. Harry needed to stop being a tool. He needed to stop being a doormat. And most of all, he needed to stop feeling sorry for himself. A band wasn't a panacea, but it certainly did change Harry's life in ways he never thought possible.

I personally don't read as much realistic YA as I do fantasy or science fiction, but when I do, I am usually quite impressed because I pick those titles carefully. This story was an absolute shock. It was this mix of shockingly horrible situations, endearing moments, and flawed relationships. I am not quite sure how to classify this story, but I know I loved it. Harbinger is the kind of guy who just lets life happen to him. From the lightning strike to the band, he doesn't fight for or against anything. He just goes through the motions. Johnny changes that, but not all for the good. Sure, Johnny befriended a kid most adults were even too freaked out to talk to, but Johnny liked the fact that Harry was damaged. Next to Harry, Johnny was even more impressive. From his smooth, suave talk with parents to the animal magnetism everyone was drawn to, Johnny appeared to be the model young man, but his relationship with Harry was complicated and not altogether positive. I loved and hated Johnny interchangeably, and it was a difficult pair of emotions to resolve. 

Without Johnny, however, Harry would never have become the young man who wrote this college essay (the premise for the story). He never would have lived those moments, thought those thoughts, or even stepped foot outside his door. And even as he lives this strange and legendary few years with Johnny and the band, he doesn't think he is responsible for any of it. He lives his life assuming the bad things that happen to him were all his fault and the good things were thanks to some other force in his life. It was heartbreaking to witness, but Vlahos made it into a story you can't put down. Harry's short life so far is one we thank god we don't have to live through and thank Vlahos for giving it to us to bear witness. Pretty amazing! I would give this to any student- male or female. I don't think there is a "type" of reader who would enjoy this story because I believe it will transform any reader. Excellent story, transformative characters, and enough spunk and humor to keep you going. A+ in my book!

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