Review: Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno

Posted: September 16, 2014 in Reviews
Tags: , ,

This review was first posted at West of Mars. It’s being reposted here, at its new permanent home.

When I finished reading Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned, I had two thoughts. First was that this book belongs on my list of rock and roll fiction. The mix tapes, the way these characters connect to music and allow it to define their identity make this a slam-dunk to be included on the list.

My other thought wasn’t quite so charitable. You see, I recently read The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington, and these two books were quite similar. The themes of young boys in puberty, beginning to navigate the mine field that is girls, alienation from the parents (or was that in Snow Angels?)… Even Booklist, the venerated book review source, said, “This is worthy if familiar stuff.”

That sums it up, I think.

Except Hairstyles did something the other two I just mentioned failed to: evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. The afore-mentioned Snow Angels was even set near West of Mars. You’d think that would awaken some feelings.

Not like Hairstyles did. Even though I’m a bit older than these characters, I still smiled at the haircut Brian quested after. I recognized the mosh pits of old. The lazy, languid afternoons, hanging out on the hood of a car. This was my life, to a degree. Not so much that I saw myself exactly, but enough that I was right there all over again. Those college years had been good to me. They were again as I read.

One thing Hairstyles had that Peter Paddington lacked that truly needs to be mentioned is the way in which we got to watch Brian change. He made progress in life. He lost some of his awkwardness, especially with the girls. Meno wasn’t afraid to let this character grow and change and be someone else at the end of the book. As a result, at times, you can’t help but root for Brian when things are going well. You can’t help but groan when he’s a lunkhead. But you don’t give up on him; Brian’s a survivor. You can tell that early on.

I wish I’d read this before Peter Paddington. I’d have done nothing but rave about it. But like my experience with Cecil Castellucci’s Beige, this one suffers from the shame of coming in second.

Pick it up. Tell me what you think.

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