Book Reviews
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Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim


The reason I bought this book is my utter love for its film adaptation. I don’t even remember how I got my hands on the film or how I got word of it, but I am glad that I did anyway. Whenever I am asked to enumerate on the spot my favorite films of all time, I never fail to include the book’s film adaptation with the same title.

And ever since I watched this film, I have been fixated with the lead actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

So yes, when I found a copy of the novel where the movie is based from in a second-hand book store, I did not hesitate to buy it. I have to know how different it is from book. I assumed that it would be different because I always found the film adaptation inferior to the book.

Is it the same case for this one?

The Rhapsody

This is a harrowing novel about two boys from the same junior baseball league team who were sexually abused by their coach. Pedophile, anyone? Yes, the novel poignantly unfolds the devastating effects of their sexual abuse as they grow up not forgetting and not remembering.

One boy cannot forget the coach because it turns out that he is a young homosexual kid who has a propensity for older guys. One boy cannot remember because this childhood event traumatized him, which even got to the point where he associated the abuse with alien abduction.

The novel is told in four voices. They are Neil, the boy who cannot forget, Brian, the boy who cannot remember, Deborah, Brian’s sister, and Wendy, Neil’s best friend. Wait, I cannot remember if there is a fifth voice in the character of Eric, Neil’s and later Brian’s friend.

I guess I fit the role of the boy who cannot remember?

The two boys never saw each other again after that event, or more specifically, they never had the chance to talk about what happened. Ten years later, the effects that coach has on each of them carry on, and meeting each other became necessary. The past is reopened as Brian tries to figure out the supposed alien abduction that he experienced. He is invaded by dreams of aliens caressing his body, the face of coach, and the nearness of Neil.

Neil, on the other hand, turns out to be a notorious manwhore who has been selling his body exclusively to older men since he entered the threshold of adolescence, in the hopes of filling up the void that coach left him. He is sought after by Brian, and only on one Christmas Eve are they able to talk, to visit the house where coach used to live, to uncover the truth, and to come to terms with the past, evaluate the present, and look forward to the future.

Whenever I think of this novel, the movie version always come to mind. This is because it was so loyal to the book. I think there was only one part removed, which was something about Brian and Deborah squashing watermelons on the road, but I don’t think it was really necessary to the plot. It was more of an amplifier of the sibling’s relationship with each other, which was pretty much established without this chapter.

I do not know how different my experience of the book would be if I have not seen the film first. But having seen it before reading it, the narrative was intensified. I expected no longer to feel a sense of suspense, but there is still one anyway.

And I am glad to have read this one. I don’t think it has an award. It’s not even in the Top 100 Lists that I am collecting. I even think that the film version is, at times, better than the book, which goes without saying that this is the only film adaptation of a book that was able to give full justice to the novel it is depicting.

Which also goes without saying that I shouldn’t be too picky with books. This one is a book that says, hey, a book doesn’t need an award to be really good. It does not have to be loved by the critics. I have to admit though that the film adaptation has good remarks from top movie critics, and now I’m wondering what the heck happened with top book critics.

They missed out a lot with this book, in case they have been too prissy with their book choice.

5 star - it was amazingFinal Notes

The book and the film are two different entities, but it is hard to separate one from the other. It is hard not to think about one of them if one is either reading the book or watching the film. It is a problem I have, but I am always interested in looking for a film adaptation of a book that I have read.

The film adaptation is the director’s vision. It is how he understood the film. His understanding of the film differs from how one understood it. They also have to compromise certain things to make the book fit for the silver screen, such as plot changes, chapter deletions, et al. This is why it is fun watching these because there is a telepathic debate going on between you and the director, presenting to him how you would have done things your way.

Some of the film adaptations that I have seen and read the books where they are based from are the following:

  • Atonement – The ending was changed, but it was still good.
  • Blindness – For some reason, I didn’t like it.
  • The Hours – I like it, but it felt too fast.
  • Never Let Me Go – I would have hated this so much had it not been for the cast.
  • The Road – It failed to capture the both depressing and hopeful journey of the father and son.
  • The Shipping News – I don’t remember, so maybe it’s just blah.
  • Mysterious Skin – The best film adaptation ever! The loyalty to the book, the soundtrack, the score, the cinematography, the cast, everything.

Thanks to Mysterious Skin, I was also able to discover the beauty of ambient and shoegaze music. Sigur Ros, anyone?



  1. Hi!

    Thanks for the lovely note you left on my blog!

    Just like you, I saw the movie first before reading the movie, and it really did color my reading experience a lot. In fact, I think our experiences practically mirror each other. The movie was such a great thing to watch — painful as it is — and JGL so good in it that sometimes it feels like the book is the one that isn’t living up to the movie. XD


    • Thanks too! I’ve been reluctant to admit that the movie equaled or even surpassed the book, fearing that I failed to fully appreciate the novel. But here is someone who thinks like I do. :D


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