Monday, July 11, 2011

Week 26: American Skin, by Don DeGrazia

American Skin is a novel loosely based on the life of its author, Don DeGrazia. It’s the story of Alex Verdi, a teenager who finds his life completely uprooted when his hippie parents get busted for dealing pot. In a single day, finds the family farm ransacked and one of their dogs shot, and his parents and little sister are nowhere to be found and presumably in police custody. He makes a split decision to run away from the bucolic Illinois town he lives in and head for Chicago. Alex is a smart, savvy kid, and he quickly gets a factory job and moves into the Y. Just as quickly, he is indoctrinated to city life by way of multiple muggings. He manages to learn from them and becomes incrementally more street-smart. One day on the subway, he is on the verge of a tussle with a few thugs when a group of skinheads come to his aid. Alex spends a night hanging out with them and they take him under his wing. He befriends Timmy, who helps manage a local music venue/club that provides a living space for many of the skins. Later on, when Alex loses his job, he takes Timmy up on his offer to move in. And so begins Alex’s initiation into skinhead culture – not Nazi skinheads, but the skinheads who listen to punk and ska music and are proponents of racial equality. These “good” skins are constantly fighting with the “bad” skins (the ones that are more into white power and all that). A brief history of skinhead/punk history ensues, and it’s pretty entertaining to read about it all playing out at the club with its cast of colorful characters. Alex’s current adventures are subtly shaped by his upbringing, as the reader sees how snippets from his past influence him in different ways. His longing for his family, or any family, is touching at many points. He silently carries around his past, never sharing the whole truth with any of his new friends. As life circuitously brings him from the club to the Army (enlisted by force after breaking the law) to Northwestern University (pretending to be a student to impress a girl), one finds his evolution from boy to man half inspiring and half sad. The reader will undoubtedly be rooting for Alex’s sweet yet tough persona, as well as all of the other hysterical, realistic characters. The book is slightly campy, but always entertaining; a great summer read.

No comments:

Post a Comment