Here at YABC, we're thrilled to be revealing an excerpt of Anthony Breznican's debut novel, Brutal Youth, as part of the book's blog tour!
Anthony Breznican was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsurgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for , , and . He is currently a senior staff writer for .
Meet Anthony's book.
Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that's even worse in Anthony Breznican's Brutal Youth.
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.
Sample Brutal Youth for yourself:
Prologue: The Boy on the Roof
The kid had taken a lot of punishment over the years, so he had much to give back.
A steel hatch on the roof of St. Michael the Archangel High School shuddered, then burst open, and the boy crawled out and collapsed against the gritty tarpaper surface, kicking the lid shut again with one sockcovered foot. He wore only his uniform gray slacks and a wideopen button down shirt, streaked with blood that wasn't his. A black canvas book bag hung over one shoulder, swinging back and forth as he scrambled to his knees. He pressed his weight against the closed hatch to stifle the hollering and pandemonium rising from beneath it.
Next to the steel hatch was a bucket, steaming with hot tar. The janitor had been using it to seal sections of loose shingle that had been leaking water into the school during every springtime rainstorm. A grubby tar mop leaned against the bucket. The boy shifted his heavy bag and scooped up the mop, wedging it between the handles of the hatch, locking it shut. Then he fled back across the flat roof toward the ghostly concrete statues lining the edge.
The row of saints had stood watch over St. Michael's for as long as anyone alive could remember. Thomas, the doubter; Joseph, the foster father; Anthony, finder of lost things; Jude, devotee to the hopeless; Francis of Assisi, the lover of nature, who had a small concrete bird in his outstretched hand, and a real drip of birdshit on his concrete head. At the center archway of the ledge high above the school's main entrance stood an even larger statue of a warrior angel, St. Michael himself, wings spread and sword raised against the satanic serpent being squashed beneath his foot.
The boy on the roof was named Colin Vickler. Not that it mattered. This was the end. This was goodbye. There was nowhere else to hide. He climbed up onto the short ledge, first steadying himself on St. Michael's wing, and then hugging its torso as he tried not to stare into the bone shattering drop below. Behind him, the steel hatch shook again—a rumble of thunder on a sunny, spring afternoon. He heard screams rise from the open classroom windows on the face of the school below. Even out here, on the edge, he was surrounded.
He slumped against St. Michael, pressing his open mouth against the concrete figure's arm to make himself stop crying, tasting the stone that had weathered away to dust. The statue lurched, as if withdrawing from him, and he fell back as pieces of the crumbling base tumbled over the ledge.
Peering over the side, he saw a small group of classmates in gym clothes lingering on the school steps. The bits of stone lay scattered around their feet, and they stared up at him, shielding their eyes against the sun.
One of them pointed and said, "Hey, I think that's Clink." Another shouted: "Jump, Clink!" and the rest of them laughed. A girl's voice rose up in a singsong: "Cliiiiiiiink!"
Vickler stood up straight, staring back at them.
He rammed his shoulder against St. Michael. He beat the saint's back. He grabbed the figure's swordwielding arm and rocked him back and forth, cracking the mortar. The statue lurched, and the rusted shaft of pipe protruding through the base cracked loose, splitting the serpent free from the avenging angel's foot.
St. Michael tipped off the ledge and spiraled to the sidewalk, diving toward its own shrinking shadow. It detonated against the concrete steps in a crackling explosion of dust and rocks as the gym students leaped for their lives, shrieking and scrambling over each other.
For the first time that day—for the first time in a long while—Colin Vickler smiled.
As those fresh screams rose up, he stared over the streets ahead, to the shopping center across the road, the receding clusters of homes, the green springtime slopes of the valley rising in the distance, the wide curve of the Allegheny River, an industrial artery slouching along the steel mills and gravelworks as it bent toward Pittsburgh. In the busy street beside the school, traffic crawled past the gas stations, fastfood joints, doctor's offices, and other storefronts that lined Natrona Heights' main strip. Up here, it all looked like some toy village in a model train layout. Tiny. Unreal. It seemed harmless to him now. And he felt so much bigger than it.
The hatch shook again, but the mop handle held. Vickler watched it. Waited. Then nothing.
He stumbled toward the next saint, dragging his heavy behind him.
The bag. That's what got him here. Thick, full glass jars clattered inside the canvas. The strap cut into his hand, but he wouldn't let it leave his side again, not that it mattered now. The other kids had discovered what he kept inside, though they wouldn't understand. They couldn't. Not even he did, really. A kid had the right to some secrets, if only the ones he could carry. But these had just been taken from him.
He heard voices in the parking lot. More of the gym students were gathered below. His classmates. Former classmates now, he guessed.
One kick. One kick was all it took, and that surprised Vickler. One kick sent St. Francis toppling endoverend to the ground. But the statue didn't deliver the satisfying explosion the angel had. Instead of the sidewalk, it landed with its touchdownraised arms now stuck in a soft flower bed, its head buried: patron saint of ostriches. The kids standing around the garden looked at it with confusion.
Vickler dragged his bag to St. Thomas. He rattled the saint's head. Jars clinked madly in Vickler's bag. Clink. That's what they called him. Clink.
Three kicks later, and St. Thomas became an arrow to the earth. He hit the brick wall along the grand front steps and fractured in two at the waist. This time the kids ran.
St. Barnabas. Decades of hard weather had already crumbled the base of this statue. Vickler heaved him over.
St. Anthony—three shakes, two kicks—pray for us.
Sounds amazing, right? As part of the blog tour, Anthony Breznican is also giving away a copy of Brutal Youth!