Hairstyles of the Damned: by Joe Meno, 270 pages By Sean Carswell

Jun 05, 2007

                When you have a novel about an angry, disenfranchised white kid coming of age, it’s impossible to avoid comparing it to Catcher in the Rye. So here goes. Hairstyles of the Damned is similar to Catcher in the sense that the main character is a witty, tough and vulnerable anti-hero who you come to love by the end of the book. Unlike Catcher, though, you can be over the age of twenty and still love Hairstyles of the Damned. The novel tells the story of Brian, an outcast who’s desperately in love with his best friend, Gretchen, but also afraid to let her know. Gretchen is a mean and lovable punk rock girl, and I spent most of the novel wavering between hoping she and Brian would get together and hoping Brian would stay as far away from her as possible. Beyond the crush, the novel goes into all the relevant themes of growing up in modern times: sex, sexuality, race relations, family breakdowns, and the overwhelming feeling of being all alone. The events of the second half of the novel revolve around a segregated prom at a Chicago high school in 1991—something that really happened, and Meno deals with the issue in an insightful and sophisticated manner. Mostly, though, this book is like group therapy for anyone who was a disaffected loner in high school, and for anyone who found a way out through punk rock.  This book will crack you up and break your heart.  It’s highly recommended. –Sean (Punk Planet Books, 4229 N. Honore, Chicago, IL 60613)

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