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.
Though written for adults, Brutal Youth ‘s main characters are all teenagers — and their journey is not what most YA readers would come to expect. They are all optimistic, hopeful individuals — who, through the course of one torturous freshmen year of high school, come undone in the worst ways possible. It’s a blessing that Breznican has injected his story with so much dark humor; I can’t imagine getting through such horrific events without each little dose of laughter.
It’s sad that Breznican’s story is so honest. After all, the lesson these kids learn is one most of us have learned: that honesty and goodness is rarely rewarded; that deceitfulness and lies are often necessary to survive and to get ahead. Brutal Youth is not an uplifting story, but instead a raw reflection of society today. The optimistic side of me hopes it can serve as a wake-up call to the world that we have to do better; the pessimistic side wonders if that’s even possible.
Called “a Rebel Without a Cause for the twenty-first century” by Stephen King, Brutal Youth is in stores now.