"Skullface Boy" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Static Age Books
Written by Chad Lutzke
2018, 204 pages, Fiction
Released on September 14th, 2018
The two hours I spent reading Chad Lutkze’s Skullface Boy were an absolute delight. It’s a deceptively simply-told tale, loaded with humour, soul, heart and a multitude of larger than life characters drift in and out of the narrative. None, of course, are bigger than Levi, the Skullface Boy of the title, a teenager who really does not want your sympathy. Told entirely from Levi’s point of view, before long you’ll be a resident in his head, rolling with the punches, and smiling at the ups and downs of his crazy odyssey.
I can’t quite make my mind up whether this wonderful tale is a short novel or a novella. In the end of the day, who cares; what is important is that you push this wonderful little book to the top of your TBR pile right now! It’s not really a horror novel either, but once again don’t let that put you off, this quirkily told road trip from Denver to California ranks amongst the best weird fiction releases of 2018.
It is impossible to explain how remarkably easy Skullface Boy is to read. Levi’s internal monologue, thoughts, and experiences drive the plot and leap from the page straight into your brain. There are so many lovely moments, I can’t begin to list them all. Neither is there anything fancy in the writing, Lutkze does not use big words; it is told in a very matter-of-fact style, but everything about this straight-forward style gels beautifully together.
Levi has spent his entire sixteen years in the East Colfax area of Denver, living in Gramm Jones Foster Care Home after being abandoned by his mother when he was a tiny baby. The home is run by nuns and Levi has had a very tough life, mainly because his appearance is very peculiar. He has a deformity in which he has bones on the outside of his face; because of this he has rarely ventured far from the care home. He has a soft spot for a particular nun, Sister Jude, who does not exactly tell him to run away; she does, however, encourage him to expand his horizons. So, run away he does.
The simplicity of the plot from that moment on is near perfection. Levi wants to escape Denver and hit the beaches of California, and we the readers are riding piggy-back on his journey. Of course, he’s a sixteen-year-old boy with little money, no life skills or travel experience. He also has a skull for a face, so the journey is no plain sailing. It might be tough for Levi, but it sure is fun for the reader. To begin with, he finds it a difficult job even to get out of Denver, has to backtrack here and there, and even hitches rides going in the wrong direction.
The period of the story is never truly spelt out, but I would guess the early 1980s and you might have fun picking up on a few of the cultural landmarks from that decade mentioned along the way. Everything from cassettes, video stores, home-made t-shirts and the many literary and musical references. Levi loves KISS and laments the time he believes they sold out by removing their makeup. There’s a lovely scene when a young prostitute gives Levi a KISS t-shirt and this book is stacked with small moments of kindness which I really love. Skullface Boy has a huge beating heart at its centre.
Getting to California when you’re starving is an ordeal, but perhaps the overriding feature which makes Levi such a brilliant main character is the fact that he never asks for your sympathy and also manages to hold onto his pride and self-respect even though he hasn’t a pot to piss in. Yes, he has a skull for a face, so we have to deal with it, Levi is cool with it. This makes him so engaging. After a while, you will even begin to notice which of the characters he meets on his journey comment upon his face. Some do, many don’t, others react badly to it, and you hate them for it.
The larger-than-life support characters bring a huge amount of fun to proceedings. Amongst the oddest are a guy with no legs who is selling the contents of someone else’s house, and a possible serial killer who gets pelted with tomatoes by an anti-social neighbour. Many of these dudes, whether they are good, bad or indifferent, help Levi with their small acts of charity; everything from letting him hangout in their truck whilst they gamble in Vegas, buying him dinner, or my personal favourite, letting him crash in a second-hand bookshop. It is the simple stuff that made me smile.
I also feel this book has a potential Young Adult (YA) audience. It’s an easy idea to sell to teens, “it’s about a kid with a skull for a face” has a great hook to it. Teens might find it a bit weird, but Levi’s voice is so pure and genuine with some tuning it could work with a younger audience.
You could argue the ending is fairly predictable and I would counter that comment with a big, “So what?” This funny, heart-warming and ultimately life-affirming book finishes in the best possible way. Sometimes we all need a happy ending and I love it.