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Hairstyles of the Damned (Punk Planet Books) Paperback – January 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Meno (How the Hula Girl Sings) gives his proverbial coming-of-age tale a punk-rock edge, as 17-year-old Chicagoan Brian Oswald tries to land his first girlfriend and make it through high school. Brian loves video games, metal music and his best friend, Gretchen, an overweight, foul-mouthed, pink-haired badass famous for beating up other girls. Gretchen, meanwhile, loves the Ramones and the Clash and 26-year-old "white power thug" Tony Degan. Gretchen keeps Brian at bay even as their friendship starts to bloom into a romance, forcing him to find comfort with the fetching but slatternly Dorie. Typical adolescent drama reigns: Brian's parents are having marital problems, he needs money to buy wheels ("I needed a van because, like Mike always said, guys with vans always got the most trim, after the guys who could grow mustaches"), he experiments with sex and vandalism. Meno ably explores Brian's emotional uncertainty and his poignant youthful search for meaning, both in music and in his on-again, off-again situation with Gretchen; his gabby, heartfelt and utterly believable take on adolescence strikes a winning chord. Meno also deals honestly with teenage violence—though Gretchen's fights have a certain slapstick quality, Brian's occasional bouts of anger and destruction seem very real. He's a sympathetic narrator and a prime example of awkward adolescence, even if he doesn't have much of a plot crafted around him.
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - Set in Chicago's South Side in the early 1990s, this novel follows a year in the life of high school student Brian Oswald. His friend Gretchen, a heavyset, fight-provoking, punk-music fan, travels with him through the adolescent world of shopping malls, music stores, and suburban streets. And Brian is madly in love with her. Unfortunately, Gretchen loves Tony, a 20-something white-power hooligan who hangs out in arcades to pick up impressionable high school girls. Brian spends the first half of the book trying to build up enough courage to ask Gretchen out. When he makes his feelings known, their relationship is severed. For a time, he moves on and away from her. Trouble between his parents and issues of peer pressure flesh out the skeleton of this work. Written as a first-person narrative, the novel brings Brian to life by making full use of those colorful expletives and sexual jokes that high school boys love so much. The teen is not a nerd or a jock, but lives in a space between those stereotypes. Yet he struggles desperately to find his niche, circulating from cliques as diverse as the D&D geeks to the hyper-violent skinheads. Meno plays with music in a fashion reminiscent of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity (Penguin, 1996). The story winds its way back to Gretchen, who inadvertently leads Brian to realize that punk, too, is its own form of a fabricated identity. In the end he learns that he is Brian Oswald - and he's okay with that. - Matthew L. Moffett, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Series: Punk Planet Books
  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Akashic Books (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 188845170X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1888451702
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #498,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brian Oswald is a junior at an all boys Catholic high school, and his best friend, Gretchen, is a slightly overweight punk girl with dyed pink hair. Brian's parents are going through a slow but steady separation while Gretchen's mother is recently deceased. Both live in a town in Chicago that is still dealing with fairly severe segregation issues. Both are attempting to find their way through the various labyrinthine perils that make up the high school experience for most kids. Both want desperately to belong and feel cared for, traipsing around wearing a façade in order to be accepted, making sure they fit neatly into little niches. And yet both are also struggling to grasp their own individual identities.

Like most students, music is a huge part of Brian and Gretchen's lives. Brian loves metal and rock music, while Gretchen is "into" the punk scene. Brian's life unfolds in front of him like the meticulously arranged order of lyrical songs on a mixed tape. If only the events within life itself were so meticulously arranged...

Sounds like the typical plot for a plethora of novels based on adolescence, insecurity, and discovering what it truly means to be oneself, right? True enough. However, Joe Meno accomplishes this task with an incredibly authentic flair, drawing the reader back to when he/she was in high school and forcing his readers to take a trip down memory lane. From the music and clothing styles, down to the slang and manners of speech, Meno captures the true essence of what it meant to be a high school student in the 90's, and what it still means. However, the lessons presented herein are easily applicable, and the text easily accessible, to those of any generation.
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Format: Paperback
I hate to say this, but Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned just might have surpassed Arthur Nersessian's The F____-Up as my favorite novel published by that greatest and gutsiest of small presses, Akashic Books. This is no small feat considering that Akashic also publishes two of my own books, Las Cucarachas and Boy Genius.

That said, (enough plug for me), Hairstyles is an utterly delightful riot and I'm so glad that my publisher recommended it to me to read (he mentioned that the book featured irreverent kids as does mine.) It's true the book doesn't have much plot in the conventional sense, but who cares when it can make you feel and care so much for its characters?

Not a single moment or character in this book rings false. What's more, even the tiniest supporting character is drawn with the perfect detail that captures who they are. This is especially the case for the adult characters in the book. Anyone who is interested in learning how to write novels can learn a great deal from this book. The book may appear to some to be just the ramblings of an adolescent, but boy is it well crafted.

Particularly memorable is Gretchen, the girl who is best friends with the protagonist. This book makes you remember just how intense everything feels when you are young.

It's quite a formidable book with a unique voice that forces you to read on. I so regret that I couldn't make it to Meno's reading in New York. This is a truly great and original book that makes other books by writers of Meno's generation seem tame and frivolous.
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Format: Paperback
Brian Oswald is a total loser, a teenage dweeb who's not very popular and who can't decide if he's part of the metal crowd or the punk crowd or any other crowd. He hates his (Catholic) high school, he obsesses about sex and music, and he thinks he might be in love with his overweight childhood friend, Gretchen. In other words, Brian is just your typical adolescent who wants, more than anything else, to belong without seeming to conform.

Whether you enjoy Meno's latest novel (published, appropriately enough, by Punk Planet Books) may well depend on (1) if you think "Catcher on the Rye" really needs to be updated every couple of years and (2) how high your tolerance is for reading 270 pages of 1990s suburban adolescent lingua: "OK, so I was going to this punk show, my first ever, I guess, and I had my dad's beautiful black combat boots on, these nice twenty-hole lace-ups, and it was like eight at night, and I started up the stairs and I was taking them by twos because I didn't want my dad to have time to say anything to stop me, and also I didn't want him to see my [expletive] feet."

Not much happens to Brian and to his friends--there's no plot to speak of--and the relentless, mindless post-punk lingo is a vogue that I, for one, did not really need to relive. But, still, I couldn't put this book down. Part of Meno's success stems from his ability to make you care: even though Brian is probably the "type" I would have avoided in my youth, I could still sympathize and empathize with his self-induced angst. The other coup is the consistency of tone; Brian's voice is flawlessly rendered, without a single false note, and his character is instantly recognizable and believable without being formulaic. "Hairstyles" is, above all, a triumph of style over substance (and I mean that in a positive way); it captures faithfully the experience of being a kid, no matter how mundane and unexceptional that experience seems to us now.
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