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.
Brutal Youth is unlike any book I've read before. It starts with one of the best opening chapters I've read in a long time. With stark imagery and tension in every sentence, this opening grips you and sucks you into the story immediately. It almost feels a bit surreal at times.
After that opening, I knew I would be invested in the rest of the story. One of the my favorite parts of the novel is how it follows characters of all ages. The main characters are freshmen in high school, but we also see into the lives of seniors, the elderly principal, the parish priest, and the young computer sciences teacher. Every character's story is so unique and fascinating.
St. Michaels has a long history of hazing and the novel is aptly named: some of the "pranks" are absolutely brutal. Everyone is flawed and everyone does bad things, even the supposed good guys. The school environment brings out the worst in people and it's interesting to see how the characters rise or fall to the occasion. No choice is easy, and the author captures the daily struggles beautifully.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The story is told over the course of a single school year, and the ending definitely made me want to follow the characters throughout their high school careers. Simply put, I want to find out what happens next.
The Final Verdict:
With dark humor and a lot of heart, Brutal Youth is a coming-of-age story that is both troubling and entertaining.