This week, I had an occasion to talk about a favorite book of mine: Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, when I was asked, “What is the most provocative book you’ve ever taught?” This book wins hands-down. Set in a working-class suburb of Chicago in the early-90s, in the middle of the punk scene, the book deals with several major themes that just about anybody can deal with–identity and conformity vs. individuality and family issues.
Brian wants to tell his best friend Gretchen that he’s in love with her, but he’s afraid of what other people will think because she’s “fat.” Meanwhile, his “other” problem is that his parents’ marriage is in trouble. His kind but somewhat passive father has been kicked out of the bedroom and is now sleeping downstairs in the basement. He seems emasculated. Brian struggles with his own self-worth even while trying to deal with his crumbling home life, his desire to be an individual, his angst over his best friend, and his immersion in the punk scene. Ultimately, Brian realizes that the punk scene is just about conformity as every other part of society.
In one sense, I hate talking about this book because it is so good, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. But in another sense, this is one book I want to promote everywhere. It’s an oldie (2004) but goodie. And worth checking out, if you like gritty young adult books.
*I do, of course, have to offer the caveat that it has a lot of *dirty words* in it, including a few you don’t normally see in y.a. books. For those of you who care.