Review: Brutal Youth

October 21, 2014 Anthony Breznican, book review, bullying, coming of age, fiction, St.Martins Press 10

Brutal Youth

  • Written By:  Anthony Breznican
  • Published By:  St. Martin’s Press
  • Length:  412 pages
  • Source: Be Books Consulting provided a copy to me in consideration of a review.

Summary:  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. (publisher)

My Thoughts:  The twenty page prologue of Brutal Youth really sets the tone for what is to come. It’s visiting day at St. Michael the Archangel High School, and potential new students, 8th graders, are running amok on campus.  One student, a junior who is part of no particular group, and who is continually teased and bullied has had enough.  Colin Vikler, or Clink, is on the roof of St. Mike’s and he has decided to break apart the crumbling statues hanging over the building as part of his revenge.  A few people are hit with stone, while the bullies cheer for him to jump.  Colin then starts launching jars, jars filled with macabre objects, and he’s aiming at the now running students and faculty.  This is where we meet Davidek and Stein, visitors on that day, who happen to distract a cranky guidance counselor and likely save the life of a student who had been hit.  Seriously those first 20 pages were intense!

The rest of the book begins as the next school year begins, freshman nervously entering St. Mike’s for the first time and learning the hard way just how awful it is to be in that position.  There has always been a bit of teasing and pushing around of the new students in the school, but what may have been friendly initiation in the 1960’s is now full on bullying and torture.  The book is set in 1991, a time when bullying was not the hot button it is today, and yet while I read this book I was still shocked that teachers and administrators could turn a blind eye to this obvious culture of degradation.

What I liked best about Brutal Youth is how the main characters were all kids from awful family lives, families that had been hit by misfortune, and yet rose above this to seek better lives and friends. Davidek, Stein and Lorelei seemed to suffer the brunt of these circumstances,  and slowly we learn how their families were damaged and how each of them had suffered more.  Each of them want what most fourteen year olds want, to belong, to fit in, to be loved.  They went to wonderful lengths to show their support of those they cared for, each other and friends they began to trust.

I didn’t like how the epilogue clearly pointed to a problem in the school and yet nothing was done.  There was a disconnect with what happened to Colin Vickler and how the new kids were again treated.  The book had many many character names, most were only mentioned in passing and it made it difficult to keep up.  Naturally there were a few evil Seniors who made their deeds so awful that it was hard to forget them.  Is it awful to root for their comeuppance?

I did enjoy Brutal Youth, the first quarter of the book was slow for me, but I found the remainder impossible to put down.  While I have no desire to relive my high school years, I’m thankful mine were not as dangerous as those in the book.  I do recommend the book,but  be warned, it’s very sad at times, and the title is an honest depiction of the book.

I read this book as part of a tour, please visit these web sites to read more reviews and interviews with the author Anthony Breznican.

Date TBD: A Reader’s Respite

10 Responses to “Review: Brutal Youth”

  1. rivercityreading

    I loved the beginning of the novel (more than the rest actually – I think we were reversed!), but totally agree with you that keeping up with the characters was a little overwhelming at times.

    • Anita

      I loved the prologue, then it seemed slow to me, or maybe I was inundated with characters until after 100ish pages. Looking forward to your review.

  2. Trisha

    I may actually get annoyed at the lack of responsibility shown by the adults. Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think adults will stop bullying – especially when it is to this extent.

    • Anita

      Trisha, you know maybe that was part of my frustration too. In 1991 I didn’t have kids in school and I have no real memory if bullying was out of control.

  3. DoingDewey

    I have a tough time with books about bullying or other bad things happening to children, so I think I’ll pass on this one, especially since it doesn’t sound as though everything is resolved at the end.

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