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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Banned for Life by D.R. Haney

Title: Banned For Life
Author: D.R. Haney
 And/Or Press
Publication Date: 
 May 5, 2009
Reviewer: Ethan

Summary: For almost two decades, rumors have swirled around Jim Cassady, the quasi-legendary punk-rock frontman who disappeared without a trace after his girlfriend’s apparent suicide. Though largely written off as dead, some claim to have had brushes with Cassady, now said to be homeless and bumming change on the streets of his native Los Angeles. Intrigued, Jason Maddox, a would-be filmmaker and Cassady fan, decides to investigate. But the man he eventually finds and befriends is damaged in ways he could never have imagined, and Jason’s own life begins to unravel as he tries to save the hapless Jim Cassady from himself.

Review: As a teenager, I read the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I remember being attracted to the idea of kids who went against the social norm and really enjoyed reading the novel. Now, many years later, I find myself in awe at the power of another novel about young "punks" and growing up. In Banned for Life, author D.R. Haney captures the realism and grit of growing up an outsider, on a level I have never experienced before.

The novel is narrated by Jason Maddox, a struggling filmmaker who recalls the events in is life that have brought him to where he is today. Jason did everything he could to fit in with the kids at his high school. He wore the same clothes, listened to the same music, and even dated the prom queen. Despite all of this, we get the sense that Jason never really fits in. His life takes a drastic turn when sleeps with his girlfriends mother, and nearly kills his "friend" who told the whole school about Jason's affair. Expelled from school and disowned by his family and friends, Jason turns to the only other person he can relate to.

Bernard, Pewee as he comes to be called, makes it a point to be different. He listens to punk music, wears tattered clothes, and dyes his hair bright colors. When Jason finds himself with nowhere to turn, he finds Pewee to be not so strange after all. Through Pewee, Jason is exposed to new ways of thinking and discovers the greatest music he has ever heard. When the boys go on a trip to New York to hear their favorite band, Rule of Thumb, they are unable to enter the club, but later meet the lead singer, Jim Cassady. In that moment, Jason's life is forever changed.

Flash forward ten years, and we learn Jason is now a screenwriter, struggling to keep his head above water. Gone are the glory days of playing in bands with Pewee. Looking to find some kind of meaning in his life, Jason believes that if only he can find Jim Cassady, his questions will be answered. Unfortunately, no one has heard from Cassady since Rule of Thumb separated years ago. Jason makes it his mission to find this man before his own life unravels before his eyes.

I found Haney's writing style to be very refreshing. Never before have I read characters who carried so much truth in them. I found myself really caring about each one, even those I disliked. This novel captures all of the triumph and heartache of being an artist, and learning how to grow up. The sometimes graphically described moments may be a bit much for some readers, but I found that through this reality, the author perfectly presented Jason's journey to adulthood.

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