Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno

Published by Akashic Books/Punk Planet Books (2004)

Summary and Reviewhairstyles_cover.jpg

In its syntax, first person narration, and personal growth of the protagonist (i.e. bildungsroman), Hairstyles of the Damned ghosts J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye; even using the popular term "phony" more than once. Set in the suburbs of Chicago, IL, the book is narrated by the protagonist, Brian Oswald. From the first page of the book Brian is portrayed as an average high school outcast; he lacks identity and fights to find it as his story unfolds. Brian’s relies on his friends, including Gretchen: an "ass kicking," mix tape making punk girl, an African-American "nerd" named Rod, who “had the largest record collection of anyone [Brain] knew,” a burn out named Mike who’s long hair was famous in their catholic school, Mike’s neighbor Dorie, and a skater named Nick Brian to help him cope with a dysfunctional home life and the pangs of adolescence.
In Hairstyles of the Damned, Meno captures the essence of adolescence: awkwardness, identity issues, first crushes, puberty, and the power struggle between teens and adults. He uses a common theme to tie the events of Brians life together: music. Brian says, "When everything else was wrong that record made it right. I could go back to it, always. No matter what that record would make me feel alright"(50). As brian changes and develps over the course of the novel, so do his music tastes. From the punk rock music of Gretchen’s mixed tapes, to Rod’s Chet Baker Album, to Mike’s Pink Floyd tapes, or even his own collection of metal and classic rock, Brian's personal growth is always reflected in the music he listens to. The book even includes what look to be handwritten mix-tape lists reflecting Brian's emotions at the time. In the end, Brian's music taste is not the only thing that develops and changes--his identity and outlook on the world does as well.
Hairstyles of the Damned is likely to touch on many young people's lives, and keep them reading. The growth Brian shows at the end, his profound realization that it is okay just to be yourself (sprinkled with a little hope for the future), is likely to inspire the MTV generation to which the book is aimed to take some time and question their personal ideas about individuality and their place in the world. Overall, the intended audience of Hairstyles of the Damned is rather specific, but it is those adolescents who likely need to read a story like Brian's this the most.

Recommendations for Teachers

Warning: Hairstyles of the Damned is an honest look into the mind of a sixteen-year-old pubescent male. It contains a plethora of profanity, violence, drug use, alcohol use, and sexuality.

It would definitely take an educator with an intense value and respect for this book (equal in amount to the extra time on their haexternal image yoursign.jpgnds) to propose teaching this book in their classroom. However, Hairstyles of the Damned would be useful for two types of people: 1)Those who need a refresher (or a first time look) at the mentality of a rebellious, teenage male, and 2) rebellious, teenage male students who refuse to read. There is something alluring to a student about a book which "speaks their language." Sometimes students reject reading fiction or realistic fiction because they cannot imagine the life of the protagonist. Hairstyles of the Damned could be used as a tool to help a particularly reluctant student realize that books can be interesting to read--especially when the main character is someone just like the reader. Also, Hairstyles of the Damned is likely to be aesthetically pleasing to a young adult reader, as it has short chapters and simple, blunt language.
First, sending home a parental consent form recommended. Second, this book would be ideal for very specific cases which include a student who is not likely to read anything else. It is advised that an educator try Catcher in the Rye first, because, though is also controversial, it has a similar identifiable protagonist and colloquial language, but is much less likely to cause parental uproar. Or, Hairstyles of the Damned could serve a as a more modern example of a bildungsroman, and possibly be paired with Catcher in the Rye for some comparative analysis. Hairstyles of the Damned is ideal for a reluctant (possibly socially rebellious) student who later, with the help of an educator, will be able to find the symbolism and themes--and might actually be interested.


About the Author

Joe Meno's Website
In addition to his writing career Joe Meno is a contributing editor to Punk Planet magazine. He is also a professor at Columbia College Chicago, a school he once attended, where he teaches creative writing. According to Rate My Professor, Joe does well in the classroom.

His first novel Tender as Hellfire was published when Meno was only twenty-four. Since then he has broadened his horizons. Aside from novels he also writes short stories and has a comic strip, Iceberg Town, which is featured in Punk Planet magazine.

Two of his novels have been Chicago Tribune's Book of the Year: Hairstyles of the Damned and The Boy Detective Fails//. Others have been a Kirkus Book of the Year, Booklist Best (2006), and one has won the Society of Midland Author's Prize for Fiction (2005).

Other Works by Joe Meno:


(Listed from left to right.)

Hairstyles of the Damned Links

Book Preview on Google
Punk Planet Books: Hairstyles of the Damned
Hairstyles of the Damned on
Wikipedia on Hairstyles of the Damned

Joe Meno Links

Joe Meno's Offical Page
Interview with Joe Meno by Douglas Light
Interview with Joe Meno by Bookslut
Joe Meno's Facebook Page
Joe Meno Wikipedia
Joe Meno GoodReads Page
Joe Meno on Rate My Professor

Other Useful Links
Article about Teaching Controversical Texts
Punk Rock: Wikipedia Definition and History
Punk Rock Blues: An Article about Joe Meno And Hairstyles of the Damned
Manic Panic

Book Reviewed By:

Andrea Smith
Kendall Schuldt
Rachel Diaz
Tracy Brosseit

Other Reviews:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson