Thursday, January 23, 2014

Music Love, Part Two: Len Vlahos Drops "The Scar Boys," Jams (Well, Speaks) at Boswell on Thursday, February 13, 7 pm, with WMSE.

Though I’ve mentioned at times that I really don’t listen to music the way I did when I was younger, I apparently still seem to love reading about it. Yesterday I wrote about Greg Kot’s new book on the Staple Singers, but that’s not the only music-themed book that came out on January 21. We’re also excited about Len Vlahos’s The Scar Boys. It seems like a good time to write about the book as Vlahos is one of the authors featured at Winter Institute, the bookseller conference going on in Seattle.

I wasn’t the first to dig into this novel—Amie and Hannah met Len at a pre-pub author dinner. And of course most booksellers are well aware of Len from his years at the American Booksellers Association

But what many of us didn’t know is that in his younger years, Vlahos was in a punk pop band called The Woofing Cookies and he calls on these experiences in his first published novel. Harry “Harbinger” Jones is no ordinary kid. He’s been struck by lightning, permanently disfigured, and no amount of operations will make him ever look like a normal kid again. He’s an outcast.

But then this other kid, Johnny, makes overtures of friendship. Johnny decides their going to start a band. They recruit a drummer (he’s the Ringo, so no story for him) and then a Pete Jones type, and then when he leaves, Cheyenne, and yes she’s a girl. Yes, there’s a love triangle, and she gets a little more spotlight, but in the end, this is a story about friendship and music, so Harry and Johnny are the stars.

Amie has been noticing a resurgence in realistic teen novels, and boys are getting more of a spotlight, thanks in part to John Green. I suspect we’ll be able to talk The Scar Boys up to folks who read R.J. Palacio’s Wonder as well. Leave it to a publishing person (much like Palacio, who was formerly the director of children’s publishing at Workman) to give us a good hook to sell a book.

Hey, our friendship with Len would definitely have led us to read The Scar Boys, but it wouldn’t necessarily propelled booksellers to endorse the book as heavily as they have. The Scar Boys is the #1 Indie Next Pick for Kids’ books for winter. And a whole mess of booksellers who didn’t know Len in his previous incarnation have also fallen in love with the book, like our own Hannah.

Here’s her rec for The Scar Boys: “Harry gets scarred by lightning at an early age. In middle school, he's bullied, lonely, and friendless, until a classmate, Johnny, befriends him. Johnny and Harry decide to start a punk rock band because why not? It's the eighties and punk is IN! Music gives Harry an outlet, an identity, and all of the teenage band drama anyone would expect. If you don't want to pick up an instrument and rock out at the end of this book, then you're not reading hard enough!” –Hannah Johnson-Breimeier

We’re hosting Vlahos for a day of school visits, and an evening event at Boswell, co-sponsored by WMSE on Thursday, February 13, 7 pm. This book is definitely for the rock and roll parent to share with their rock and roll kid, so we’re hoping that our setup with WMSE as a conversation is going to be a lot of fun.

Here’s a Woofing Cookies video for a song produced by REM’s Peter Buck.

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