Harbinger “Harry” Jones was in a childhood accident that left him externally scarred and broken inside. When he meets Johnny, their friendship leads to a spontaneous decision to form a band, which brings Harry out of his shell. Their burgeoning popularity is a pleasant surprise, but it opens up a subtle rift with his best friend. As The Scar Boys gain in popularity, their future grows ever less certain.

Author Len Vlahos wrote his own teenage band, Woofing Cookies, into the background of this smart, ambitious debut novel, and it’s clear he’s familiar with the rigors of the road, the triumph of a successful if tiny gig and the unfathomable miracle of a seven-inch record you cut with your friends. All these things give The Scar Boys richness and depth.

Harry tells his story to a faceless college administrator in an application essay, and his asides to this presumed audience are smart-mouthed fun. What makes this a standout, though, is Vlahos’ ability to capture the complex dynamics of male friendship. Harry and Johnny are best friends, but their trust is undermined by Harry’s insecurity. When Harry begins to stand up for himself, Johnny feels threatened and lashes out. It ultimately takes losing each other for them to see what they had.

With its song-titled chapters and an overload of firsts (kiss, tour, betrayal, vehicle) and lasts, The Scar Boys is a music-drenched, fast-moving story with a revealing male relationship at its core.

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