Paperback, 432 pages
Published June 2nd 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published June 10th 2014)
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
Author Anthony Breznican brillantly presents an insightful look at bullying, fighting back, and all the struggles in-between. It's a book that will hit home with readers both young and old.
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.
And it absolutely, absolutely is. Breznican shares the tale of three characters - Peter, Noah and Lorelei - who are struggling against the backdrop of a Catholic high school that has lost its moral center. St. Michael's has become a wasteland of bullying and hazing, with the cycle doomed to repeat every year, with each incoming class.
Being young can absolutely be horrible at times, and Breznican's book is a timely reminder of the struggles and challenges faced by youth - particularly when it comes to bullying - as they struggle to grow up in an unrelenting world. Unlike other titles that have come out in recent years, Breznican doesn't hesitate to show the intricacies and complexities of high school bullying. We quickly learn that there is no simple answer or magic resolution to people who are being bullied; people can just be horrible sometimes, and one just needs to learn how to roll with the punches, and do what one can to circumvent it.
And even with those who are being buillied, the answer is just never black and white either. Characters in Brutal Youth who are bullied will retaliate bully at turns, and Breznican unflinchingly challenges readers to question just what it is about the human instinct for self-preservation that evokes these types of reactions.
While Breznican's charting of Peter, Noah and Lorelei's journey is undoubtedly cynical and reveals a certain rawness about humanity that may make some readers flinch, it's also a raw honesty that we can use more of in young adult literature.
But that's exactly what I liked it, and why I'm confident that other readers will like this book too. Breznican captures a certain rawness about humanity, and the struggles that we face as we grow up, that is humbling and thought-provoking. This is definitely a book that will make you THINK about your life, and the world around you, and how you relate to those whom you haven't always understood, or made the effort to understand.
Highly recommend for all readers, full stop.
About the author:
ANTHONY BREZNICAN was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today, and is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly. Brutal Youth is his first novel.