Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Julie's Review: Brutal Youth

Author: Anthony Breznican
Series: No
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 516
Obtained: Be Books Consulting
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Interesting look at hazing and bullying in a Catholic high school in the 90s
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michaels 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.

Review: Brutal Youth is an intriguing look at bullying and hazing during the 1990s at a suburban Catholic high school. Being a freshman is never easy in any feat for anyone but when you are a bit different or don't quite fit in, it can be horrible. For our 3 incoming freshman, St. Mike's is anything from welcoming. From the teachers to the upperclassmen, no one makes it easy for Noah and Peter. Lorelei has it a bit easier because she eventually figures out how to play the game.

The teachers are no better than the students. Ms. Bromine is truly reprehensible. She is perhaps the worst character in the novel. Just the mere mention of her makes me disgusted. She's so miserable in her own life that she takes it out on the students of St. Mike's. She's so focused on getting one over on Sister Maria that she doesn't realize that it will all turn on her. She was definitely did not have the students best interest in her sights. Mr. Zimmer wasn't a bad guy, he was just sheltered as a kid and somewhat still sheltered as an adult. It was only a mater of time until a student takes advantage of his kindness.

The hazing goes from teasing, bullying to cruelty. Now, our three freshman weren't always so innocent either. They were mouthy and "stirred the pot" with the upperclassmen as well. Some of the freshmen ingratiated themselves with the seniors and while it might have spared them from some hazing throughout the school year, it comes back to bite them at the Hazing Picnic.

Each character carries their own secrets including the kids; Peter, Noah and Lorelei. None of them have a great home life, so the terror of high school doesn't offer them the refuge that each of them had hopes for it doing. Instead of finding refuge in each other, they use each other. Some more than others. There is no doubt that kids are cruel. There is no doubt that they have no clue about the lasting effects of their actions. Some situations shape how you will forever view the world.

Unfortunately for Peter and Noah, their interactions with both kids and adults will not have lasting positive effects for them. One of them will have more emotional scars than physical and one will have both. What's true for both of them, is they will have issues trusting. This is perhaps what strikes me as the saddest outcome for both of them.

No one ever said high school was easy. No one ever said that things that happen won't hurt. The thing is most of us get through high school with some bruises and scars. Most of us have fond things we loved about it and most of us have things we would rather forget. Most of us were teased in some way but for most of us it made us stronger. 

What  Brutal Youth highlighted for me was that bullying and hazing aren't new issues but just talked about now. What was the most disturbing is that the adults didn't really try to stop the behavior and in some ways they helped perpetuate it.  I can only imagine that as an adult it might be difficult to draw the line about what is considered "too far" but it is up to them to act like adults.



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