TITLE: Brutal Youth
AUTHOR: Anthony Breznican
PUBLISHER: Thomas Dunne Books
RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2014
This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review after a certain retailer delayed my order time and time again and then wouldn’t allow me to cancel it.
With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.
To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.
A big thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of what is now one of my favorite books. Also, a huge thank you to Anthony for starting a conversation with me over my disgruntled and frustrated tweets about not finding the book locally and my difficulties ordering it Barnes & Never-Receive-Your-Order Noble. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it, as well as your kindness, won’t soon be forgotten.
This book begins much like a the beginnings of a horse race. Bang! And they’re off! Welcome to high school hell. We’re greeted by Colin on the roof of St. Michael the Archangel High School in a situation that is boiling over like a pressure cooker left simmering far too long. The prologue of Brutal Youth gripped me so thoroughly that by page seven I knew I wouldn’t be able to put this book down and walk away from it. I had to know how it ended.
I don’t want to give away too much but the situations Breznican’s characters find themselves in are so quintessentially high school– the drama, the backstabbing, the anger, the hostility, those desperate, raw pangs of teenage emotion that consume a person entirely. The characters are crafted in a believable, heart aching way. You’ll love some and hate the others. The story is equal parts gut wrenching and humorous–just like high school is for most people.
All he needed was a friend, but you can’t find that in people who hate where they’ve ended up but still expect you to follow in their footsteps.
Bullying is the main issue of the book but it’s not thrown in your face as a public service announcement. It’s a careful, steady buildup of what happens when everyone is dealing with their own personal demons, choices they’ve made and other’s suffer because of them. What stood out the most to me was not the bullying in general but the way the majority of the characters seemed only concerned about their own welfare. That’s real life, folks. That’s what made this book feel so realistic in my opinion. The adults are so concerned about saving their own asses that the education of the students takes a backseat to how to keep their jobs.
The characters, especially the main characters–Davidek, Stein, Pascal, and Kraut, are really well developed. They have dimension, just like flesh and blood people (most of them anyway). Peel a layer back and you might find something surprising. None of them were innocent bystanders with things happening to them. No, they were an active and sometimes a cruel part of the action as well. It lends a sense of reality to the book because nobody is perfect all the time. You can be kind and helpful and still occasionally want to beat the shit out of someone. At times, I wanted to smack them right across the face. Other times I wanted to hug them and tell them I understood what they were going through. The parents and teachers of the student’s at St. Michael’s aren’t perfect, either. They’re flawed, multi-faceted individuals with backstories too. This book is a prime example of how what a person has been through affects the way they see the world and consequently how they treat those around them. The butterfly effect…
Maybe you can’t blame people for the pain that makes them who they are. Maybe that was just one more bullet you had to step in front of for someone you were supposed to love–even if you didn’t want to. Even if it hurt. Maybe that was love.
This book hooked me from the beginning and it also kept me awake at night. It perhaps even played a part in the procrastination of homework assignments. I believe this book is labeled as a Young Adult book but I would recommend it to anyone that went to high school–whether it’s where you are now, where you were last year or where you were twenty years ago. No one forgets the trauma of high school and it’s likely you can still find something relatable in Brutal Youth.
Also, I just want to share a bit of the acknowledgements from the back because they were really touching as someone headed down the MLIS path…
Finally, here’s to the librarians of the world…you radical, militant bastards…You are the keepers, protectors, and sharers of stories, and stories are how we find each other in an existence that is tragically short of call numbers.