Joe Meno broke a very important rule. When writing a semi-autobiographical novel, you're supposed to make the main character a lovable hero. He's gotta be fast and he's gotta be strong and he's gotta be larger than life, to paraphrase the old Bonnie Tyler song. But the teenage protagonist of Meno's new bildungsroman, Hairstyles of the Damned, is a truly amazing loser. Brian Oswald tries to steal from his friends, listens to bad music, and hangs around with Camaro-driving thugs who don't even like him. Worst of all, he's embarrassed to be in love with his best friend, the lovely pink-haired Gretchen, because she's fat. Boo! Hiss! What a turd. Some other writing rules Meno ignores are "Try to use fewer than 15 cuss words on each page" and "Don't write the way teenagers actually speak."
It's a great book anyway. The reader winds up feeling deep, protective affection for Oswald, a latter-day Holden Caulfield, and for the lost little foulmouths who surround him. Meno's language, as the story unfolds, is rhythmic and honest, expressing things proper English never could. And you've got to hand it to the author, who pulled off a very good trick: The book is punk rock. It's not just about punk rock (despite its obsession with mix tapes and constant references to Minor Threat and the Misfits); it embodies the idea of punk -- it's pissed off at authority, it won't groom itself properly, and it irritates. Yet its rebellious spirit is inspiring and right on the mark.
Admission is free
Plus, Hairstyles has tons of attitude: "All the kids who had been geeks or fags or nerds or wastoids in junior high started dressing fucked-up when they hit high school ... now they would get pointed at and laughed at, but no one would fuck with them and so they didn't have to take anyone's shit ever again. Being punk meant having something to fight against." Long live rule-breakers. -- Hiya Swanhuyser