BY: JOHN SANTANA
Nick Karenka is lost in Sin City. His band’s singer has navy SEAL aspirations, his dad’s marrying a young stripper, and why does his girlfriend’s family make such a big deal about eating with your elbows on the table? Nick holds LA as some sort of utopia, until a chance encounter with a kilt-wearing, hearse-driving drum-playing college freshman named Gremlin starts to bring out who Nick really is. They begin to explore the world beyond the desert island that is Las Vegas until they finally realize that their future isn’t in Southern California, but with a bunch of lumberjack-dressing misfits in the Pacific Northwest…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Bastards of Young by John Santana, Nick Karenka is a senior in high school in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has a band that he is desperately trying to keep together, but the band members are dropping like flies. Not only that, but his girlfriend, Amanda’s, family thinks he’s an uncouth jerk. To add icing on the cake, the high school jocks go out of their way to make his and his friends’ lives miserable. With Nick’s dad marrying a younger woman, a stripper, and his mom married to a Kenny Rogers wannabe, Nick is having an identity crises of major proportions. Can he keep it together long enough to graduate from high school and take his band on the road, or is he doomed to always be as invisible as he thinks he is?
Santana has crafted a touching and poignant coming of age story that will make you laugh, make you cry, and warm your heart—a remarkable first novel, very well done.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Bastards of Young by John Santana is the story of a young man with dreams beyond his station. Nick Karenka is a senior in high school, the leader of a band, and a misfit at his high school in Las Vegas. With more determination than talent, Nick has managed to put together a four-piece band. But his other band members don’t seem to share his dream of taking the band to LA after high school. War wants to become a SEAL, Micah is hooked on drugs and becoming violent, and Donnie has been kicked out by his grandparents and has nowhere to go. Nick’s dad is marrying a stripper, his mom has married a man Nick can’t stand, and his girlfriend’s parents hate him. But it isn’t until he meets Gremlin, a kilt-wearing drummer, that Nick’s life really gets interesting.
Bastards of Young is one of the most realistic representations of high school life that I have read in a long time. With a fast-paced and unpredictable plot, marvelous characters that you can’t help but root for, and a ring of truth that borders on uncomfortable, this is one story you’ll remember for some time to come.
February, 1988, Las Vegas, Nevada:
I kicked the door the way I should’ve kicked Owen Maywood’s face.
Suspended. Me. For fighting. The jocks jumped me. But I didn’t have a soccer or wrestling match coming up. Nothing for Fremont High to lose sending me home for a week.
“You’re gonna learn to worship me. I am a god!” Owen yelled as he tried giving me cauliflower ear.
The door slammed into me the way James Janninks shoved me into my locker. I stumbled but didn’t fall. I walked fast. I had to get outta there, even though I had to come back in an hour to get Amanda and take her home.
I wanted to key Owen’s red Jeep. It was a few feet away, right in its own private parking space in that sea of newer cars that didn’t have oxidized paint jobs and dirty carburetors.
Forget it. I would’ve stood out too much with my long hair, leather jacket, torn Levis, and scuffed combat boots. People get all paranoid when someone like me shows up. They see me doing something, and next thing you know, I’m off to juvee. Then what?
I parked across the street in a dirt lot, just like all my friends. Made washing my faded white 1971 Plymouth Duster a waste. The winter desert wind kicked up and blew a dust devil right by my car when I got there. The pebbles struck my face and head. It felt like I got pelted by a semiautomatic BB gun.
After the twister moved on a voice said, “Hey, what’s up, bro?” just as I unlocked my car.
On the passenger side was a thin, pale face with sunken cheeks and round brown eyes over a long, pointed nose. An over-sized gray sweatshirt hung off his coat hanger shoulders and stick-figure torso. His long, brown hair blew everywhere. He was barely five-and-a-half-feet tall, six inches shorter than me.
“War,” I said. “Where the hell you been?”
“Open the door. Fuckin’ cold out here.”
I got inside and let him in. He slammed the door behind him.
“You give me a ride?” he asked while putting on his seat belt.
I put the keys in the ignition and started the car. “Of course. Where you goin’?”
The 340 V-8 made a deep noise on startup, especially when I gunned the accelerator to keep the piece of shit from stalling.
“My dad’s,” War yelled.
I yelled, “Where’s he live?”
War messed with the heater switch while I put on my seat belt. “Trailer park by the Strip. Go to Charleston, make a right.”
I zipped the Duster out of the dirt lot just ahead of a lifted Chevy truck. The truck’s driver honked. I flipped him off then stomped the gas pedal for a quick getaway, to avoid retaliation. “Dude, you never answered my question. Where you been?”
“At my dad’s. Mom threw me out.”
I glanced at him briefly as I turned onto Charleston, not even looking to see if any cars were coming. I sped to fifty in a forty-five. “You gonna tell me why?”
“Got in another fight with Marianne. Fat bitch kept sayin’ it was my turn to do the dishes, so I grabbed a knife and said I was gonna cut her throat, shut her up for good. Mom saw the whole thing, freaked out, and started screamin’ and shit.” War shook his head and waited a few seconds before finishing his story. “She always freaks out over the stupidest shit.”
A couple cars were ahead of me, slowing down. “Can you blame her?” I asked, thinking that his little stunt was easily the dumbest thing he ever did.
“I wasn’t gonna do anything. I just wanted to get out of doing the dishes so I could watch TV.”
I stopped for a red light at Jones Boulevard. The brakes squealed. “So you moved in with your dad?”
War turned on my radio. The station that called itself the “Rock of Las Vegas” played some damn Crosby, Stills, and Nash hippie crap. All treble, no bass, and some static came from cracked speakers. War turned it off the second the vocals came in.
“No. I’ve joined the navy. He’s taking me to the airport tonight. Boot camp. San Diego.”
The light turned green, but I didn’t accelerate. I stared at him with a fallen jaw. “You what?” A horn blared. It pissed me off, so I floored it. Squealing tires, burning rubber, both of us thrown against the black vinyl bucket seats. “You joined the navy? What the fuck?”
“I’m gonna try out for the SEALs.”
I laughed. “You? Try out for an elite commando unit? Right. You outta your fuckin’ mind?” I laughed more, shaking my head. “Man, you’ve watched way too many Chuck Norris movies.”
War shoved me in the shoulder. “Fuck you, Nick. This is my dream.”
The car swerved violently into the center turn lane. “Don’t ever fuckin’ touch me when I’m drivin’,” I yelled.
I straightened out the car, then I told War he was full of it about becoming a SEAL.
“I’m serious. I wanna blow shit up and kill people.”
“I thought our dream was to graduate from that shithole, then take the band to LA.”
“That’s your dream. Not mine.”
Wasn’t he gonna say something like “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned”? Wasn’t he gonna tell me he this was another one of his pranks? Join the navy. Right. He couldn’t betray us.
“You don’t get it, do you? I just wanted to have a good time. That’s why I joined the band. We hung out, partied, got tore up, rocked out. I wasn’t serious about it.”
I sped as a yellow light turned red. “Sure acted like it.”
I took out my anger on the 340. At least it quit hesitating. It revved at a steady fifteen-hundred RPMs.
“Man, slow the fuck down!” War shouted as I zoomed through the intersection with Valley View doing sixty-five, barely beating a red light. “Gonna get our asses pulled over.”
“How the fuck can you say you weren’t serious? We swore on our blood. Graduate, LA, place in Hollywood, gigs on the Sunset Strip. Remember? We swore it on our blood.”
War laughed. He smacked the black, cracked dashboard. “Man, you better wake up. It ain’t gonna happen.”
I glared at him and asked what he meant.
“You and Donnie are the only guys that are any good. Micah sucks. Scuzz can’t even fuckin’ play.”
I slammed the brakes as a red Pontiac Fiero cut me off. I wanted to remind War that he couldn’t sing, when he swore he could. After every song he’d ask us if he sounded just like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. No, War, you don’t sound like Steven Tyler. I ignored him and kept the band focused. We moved on to the next song. Count off the tempo, and away we went. Good thing War was my friend. It was the only reason he ever got in. War was also right about Scuzz, but he’s the only bass player I knew.
“So what’re you sayin’?”
“Don’t expect them to follow you.”
How the fuck does he know? We’re a serious heavy metal band. The music’s us. We’re committed.
“Turn here,” War said.
He guided me into a dusty trailer park. I stopped in front of a single-wide that was white and faded green with brown dirt all over it, bent blinds in the front window, a rusting older green stepside Ford pickup in the driveway, and a carport protecting it from the sun.
War thanked me for the ride as he got out of the Duster, but I was pissed. I didn’t tell him he was welcome.
“You ain’t gonna make it as a SEAL.”
“You ain’t gonna make it as a fuckin’ metal god, asshole,” War yelled and slammed the door.
© 2018 by John Santana