My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
St. Michael’s working-class Catholic school has, over the years, been falling apart in the hands of the indifferent, ignorant and clueless faculty while maintaining its place as an educational institution for children who have nowhere else to go. It is no surprise then, that St. Mike’s hosts a huge array of problems not only in the form of physical damages but also as a meeting point for teenagers who are angry, unforgiving, brutal. In this small community enter three freshmen, Davidek, Stein and Lorelei, each with different stories, distinguishing attitudes and specific individual goals. St. Michael’s is an unforgiving environment in which even the good-natured young men and women will go bad in order to survive.
Anthony Breznican’s debut novel follows a large group of characters some of which are students, others are teachers and a few are parents. The book reads from a third person perspective and rapidly shifts characters in focus in a way that gives the reader a large scope during a given scene. This book is considered a young adult novel due to the main characters being teenagers, but there is considerable violence and strong language throughout the story placing Brutal Youth in the upper YA reading group. The story takes place during a whole school year at St. Michael’s school and observes a community of students and faculty interacting with each other in a vicious fight for survival and acceptance.
The worst were the girls laughing at him, girls he thought were cute. And he was no help for himself – dropping his eyes, muttering, not clever enough to return the insults, not strong enough to fight back. It never stopped. It never would.
What is really the strongest part of this vicious novel is the cast of characters Anthony Breznican has come up with. From the young, green freshman, Davidek, who starts of at his new school hoping to be a good person and make some friends to the hostile, vengeful professor Ms Bromine who hopes to escape the ghosts of her past self. Lorelei, a girl who thinks she knows how it feels to lose everything has only one goal in her agenda, make a new beginning. And the tragic character of our story, Stein, the boy who takes a bullet for everyone he cares for. Breznican has created a whole community of people who wonder the school’s premises trying to find a purpose or trying to maintain their identity. The message that the author passed on to me in a very powerful manner is that you can never know why a person acts a certain way. As a psychology student this scares and intrigues me and makes me appreciate the many layers of character development and character creation Anthony Breznican has devoted to his book.
On the roof, Colin Vickler, also known as Clink Vickler, also known in grade school as Creepy Colin, seventeen years old, still without a driver’s license, pale-skinned, a prospect-less virgin, and utterly friendless, felt power for the first time in his life as he listened to the electric howl of the alarm and watched waves of his schoolmates gush out of St. Michael’s arched entryway.
Brutal Youth throws you into a setting where a young man has lost control of himself. You get to know St. Michael’s from a first small taste that Breznican forces into your open mouth; insanity, chaos, horror. It turns out that the whole book will leave this bitter taste in your mouth. How can all the students in a school be so unforgiving? How can young people who have only a few years of life experience in their record be so cruel? What has happened to these adults that makes them chose to stay so ignorant, hostile and tyrannical? The force with which this book hits you is phenomenal. You don’t get to have a break. As a reader, you don’t get to have a break. As these students don’t get to have a break either. Think about how many students in today’s brutal youth in the schools of 2016 harass, bully and threaten their peers. This novel dares you to open your eyes to what’s happening around you and shoves the terrifying truth that adolescents can be ruthless and brutal, hateful and merciless to anyone who challenges what they consider to be “normal”. After reading this novel I keep wonder, could this really be happening?
The actual truth was bad enough. Vickler knew he wasn’t coming down again. There was no crawling back through the hatch. There was no apologising. There was no explaining. He was over. Colin Vickler was gone. Now, he was just Clink. Weird. Psychotic. Dangerous.
But he kind of liked that last part.
On the other hand, it is extremely difficult for me to believe that indeed, all the students of St. Michael’s had gone past their breaking point. For better or for worse, children can be extremely resilient. So how is it that St. Mike’s youth is so damaged? The fact that Brutal Youth as a novel touched, even barely, the borders of improbability and excessiveness, is raising a small objection in my mind. I could believe 100% that adults can be corrupted, disgusting human beings, but I want to hold this small light of hope for the young ones.
They were supposed to be uncomplicated times, seventh and eighth grade – silly, even. Carefree. Hers had been filled with broken friendships, loneliness, loss, ridicule…
Let’s talk a little bit about the setting and the writing style. This story is taking place in 1991, in Pennsylvania where the Catholic school of St. Michael’s is hosting the new and old students for the school year of 1991-1992. From the beginning of the story I felt a strong sense of gothic ambience, the kind you see in movies such as Les Choristes. Anthony Breznican has worked as a reporter in big newspapers like USA Today, so he is not a novice when it comes to writing. His style is descriptive and to the point, raw, poignant and easy to follow. As a result, although I was reading a debut novel, it didn’t feel like one. A very pleasant surprise of a novel that reminded me why YA contemporaries can be extremely important for everyone.
Things had changed. A boy learns a lot in his first year of high school.
One was a simple lesson that a lot of people figure out around his age: Surprise, surprise – the good guys don’t always win. Sometimes, they’re lucky if they just get to keep on being good guys.
With this quote I’d like to finish my review as I feel perfectly depicts and summarises the objective and significance of this novel. We live in an unforgiving world and sometimes all you can hope for is to remain your self and stay uncorrupted by your surroundings. I truly recommend this book to adolescent readers but I would also urge adults to pick it up and dare themselves to see a cruel reality and what the actions of one person can cause to another. As I said, it does contain strong scenes of violence and language for anyone who doesn’t enjoy these types of reads. I am very happy to have found and read this novel.
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BookDepository: Brutal Youth