Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
The coming of age or friends tale in horror literature was popularized by Stephen King in the late 70s and early 80s with stories such as The Body and It. Since then a number of authors have written within the subgenre. Each has tried to put their unique spin on the format by adding in their personal life experiences. Skinnzz, by Wrath James White, is one such tale.
Set on the streets of Philadelphia in the late 80s, Maxwell “Mack” Johnson is an African American street punk who has recently graduated high school and taken a year off to find himself before heading to college. This journey has led him to Jason “Demon” Sadler and the two have become the best of friends, due primarily to a love of punk rock, alcohol, and women.
Things are going well for the two of them until Mack’s girl, Miranda, is beaten into a coma by a group of skinheads, known as “The Unrest.” Now, the two boys are on a quest for revenge as a street war erupts between the left wing punks and their right wing rivals. The cycle of violence escalates as both sides turn from beatings to torture and murder.
Skinzz is told in a splatterpunk or hardcore horror style of writing, which is to say every graphic detail is put to page. This includes some of the most atrocious racial violence that has ever been written. There are no ghosts or demons here, just people hurting people. Both sides are going to pay the price for their actions and there are no winners in war.
How much of the book is semi-autobiographical remains to be seen. However, it is hard not to draw comparisons between Mack and the author. Besides being black, both are martial artists and both appear to have come from a similar background. There are times when White is writing about how Mack is not the more socially acceptable “Prince or Michael Jackson Black,” but “just black” that is hard not to think that White is offering a little glimpse into how he envisions others think of him or African Americans in general for that matter. Then there are the details of street punk and skinhead life which at times almost feel as if White is an anthropologist writing about counter culture in the 1980s.
While the story has been told before in innumerable formats, these insights are fascinating enough to hold the reader’s attention. Skinzz is by no means Wrath James White’s strongest work, but it somehow manages to have a heart while maintaining the rough and unfiltered style White is famous for. So if you are a fan of the coming of age tale or punk culture, consider picking it up.