Revolting young people

Nobody respects the kids of “Hairstyles of the Damned”

Brian Oswald is in love with his best friend, his parents are splitting and he doesn’t have a car or date to the prom.

Author Joe Meno tackles all the confusion and isolation that goes along with high school in his third novel, “Hairstyles of the Damned.”

Brian, who narrates his tale of woe, is so awkward and dorky that his actions can be frustrating to read. Yet, so much honesty comes through as he looks at the world around him, it’s hard not to love him.

While the reader’s relationship with Brian is key, the book refrains from being a J.D. Salinger rip-off by adding in a vivid portrait of the South Side of Chicago and a punk rock soundtrack.

The story begins in the fall of 1990, during Brian’s junior year of high school. Meno builds his character through song listings on mix tapes and notes scribbled in class, such as “bad-ass horror movie titles.”

Brian transforms from a metal fan who loves Guns N’ Roses to a punk who goes to 7Seconds shows. Meno uses punk to further illustrate Brian’s seclusion. It sets him apart from the rest of his Catholic, all-boys high school, as well as other punk rockers. As Brian’s music taste shifts, his confidence rises but so does his ability to recognize hypocrisy. This puts him at odds with his punk friends who understand the style but not the politics.

The book focuses mostly on Brian’s world, though Meno creeps in a strong back plot of the complicated race relations of the South Side. Based on actual events, Brian’s high school reaches a boiling point and segregates the prom – one for the white students and one for the black students. Remember, this is 1990, not 1960.

Meno shows Brian’s uncertainty with the situation when he writes, “The more I thought about it the more angry and confused I felt. I mean, the white kids had followed the rules. They brought their song in and everyone voted. The black kids had lost, fair and square, so maybe they were just being fucking babies. Or maybe not, I wasn’t sure. I mean, maybe, since the student council kids were all mostly white, the black kids never even had a chance in the first place.”

Meno writes an accurate account of a teenager struggling to comprehend complicated situations.

“Hairstyles of the Damned” leaves out none of the painful or glorious parts of high school. But Meno also reminds us: No one can ignore the outside world completely.