Book Review – The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.

The High Desert is a new graphic novel from James Spooner, the creator of Afro-punk, and it is fucking fantastic. This book is a powerful and intimate look into the life of a black punk teen, being raised in a white desert town in early nineties California. 

Get ready to read the whole 380 pages in a sitting or two, as this book is incredibly hard to put down; you connect with James and his scene immediately. 

A killer soundtrack follows James as he spends his teen years growing from skater to punk.  

It’s a touching coming of age tale, vulnerable and honest.

Punks will know the songs and acronyms mentioned throughout, but there are footnotes to inform those unfamiliar with the scene who the bands are, what DIY means, PMA, SHARP, etc… 

James Spooner, or “Jo Jo” as he was affectionately called in his earlier years (whether he liked it or not), is being raised by his white mom in California while his father is busy living another life in New York. Desperate for male role models he latches on to another young Bipoc punk Ty. James navigates being “friends” with racist skins, being alienated, accepted, loved, unloved, lost, and ultimately finding his own way. His journey starts with a skateboard and a black flag cassette, and he eventually learns punk is a lot more than “getting wasted and smashing shit”.

As someone who remembers renting Suburbia on VHS, buying albums just by the name, learning about bands from skate videos, and playing shows before fully knowing how to play their instrument, this book spoke to me on a million levels. This is James’ love letter to the scene, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, a leather hand painted sleeve. An important book, and a fun as fuck read. 10/10 snag this book ASAP. 

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