“If you thought high school was hell, has Anthony Breznican got a story for you…Every bully who stalked you, every sadistic teacher who ever terrified you, every stupid prank, every hopeless crush and false friend: they’re all here, along with a few kids who hang together and try to do the right thing in a brutal environment. By turns funny and terrifying, Brutal Youth is an unputdownable tour-de-force, a Rebel Without a Cause for the 21st century.” —Stephen KingThose who find Stephen King too scary to read should not shy away from Anthony Breznican. There is a major gross-out scene in the opening of Brutal Youth, but then the narrative refocuses on the psychological horrors of bullying, the implied threats. Seniors at Saint Michael's routinely haze the freshman and the administration rarely intervenes. Meanwhile, the school is physically rotting from the inside out, a metaphor of corruption and decay.
Peter Davidek, a nerdy freshman with a kind heart, is an obvious target for bullies. Our protagonist teams up with Noah Stein, a charismatic boy with a troubled past, to fight the system. The boys form a Harry Potteresque threesome with beautiful Lorelei Paskal, who has an agenda of her own. The narrative is set in the 1990s, but apart from the absence of cell phones, it doesn't feel out of date.
What makes Brutal Youth stand out from other young adult books about bullying is its bleak perspective. The kids are selfish and often cruel, and the adults are either negligent or abusive. In a traditional coming-of-age book, the naive hero develops an ethical code, but in this case, our compassionate hero is at risk of losing his moral integrity. In order to survive, Davidek must shed his kind personality and resort to Machiavellian measures to achieve justice and social harmony. A happy ending seems unlikely.
Brutal Youth is not an easy book to read, but it's even harder to put down. The characters are wonderfully drawn, if exaggerated for dramatic effect, and the writing is a winning mix of page-turner suspense and well-observed descriptions. I found many sentences to highlight:
The setting: "Lockers slammed like gunfire."
The evil guidance counselor: "Once-delicate features had gone soft and round, slightly wrinkled, as if they had swollen and then deflated."..."Bromine. It was a name like soap in the mouth."
A victim: "Lorelei's shoes clicked in the pockets of silence she created."..."The crowd parted as she passed. No one said a word. Not until she was gone."
|Author Anthony Breznican|
I love books like Brutal Youth that are hard to categorize, that bridge the YA/Adult and the literary/commercial marketing lines. This universal story about the dark side of human nature would appeal to a wide audience, especially to teenaged boys. I'm impressed with this debut and am curious to see what Anthony Breznican will write next. This book would make a good movie. Brutal Youth will be released on June 10th, 2014 by Thomas Dunne Books at Macmillan.
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