Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: "Brutal Youth" by Anthony Breznican


Never have I read a book that so accurately and so violently announced itself and its intentions simply by the title, but Anthony Breznican’s debut novel, Brutal Youth, does just that: like the title, there are no surprises, no subtly and no deep metaphors. And despite this, and that as a story it doesn’t break any new ground, it is still one of the best novels about violent academia since Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. What makes this book stand out, and, I hope, become a huge hit once word of it’s content spreads, is how it takes real teenage kids, with all of there flaws and misplaced loyalties, in a setting reminiscent of dark 90’s teen movies. This novel’s St. Michaels is easily worse than the high schools in movies like The Craft or The Faculty, with the ritual hazing and constant dehumanization being something that might, but sometimes must, have some otherworldly explanation to it. But anyone who went through four years of high school, and hated every second of it, will know that it is sometimes all too true. Which brings me to another reason this book deserves the recognition it most likely will receive: even with its needlessly cruel aspects, this book is an accurate representation of the feelings people who were bullied in high school have. The cruelty isn’t always the worst part; it is feeling alone and isolated in your grief, knowing that other scared classmates and apathetic teachers won’t help escape your pain. Into this hellish environment comes Peter, a kind yet na├»ve boy, who, during a shadowing of the school, experiences first hand the kinds of violence he will deal with if he comes to this school, which involves a depressed student climbing to the roof with the intention of hurting as many people on the ground as possible. During a courageous act, he meets Noah Stein, who will be his only friend as he goes through his trials, which are numerous and horrifying, involving cruel nicknames and constant abuse from the upperclassman, culminating in an infamous hazing picnic that has claimed quite a few casualties in the past. Like I said, this book gets a lot of things right. For all its intensity, the books more nuanced themes of betrayal and dishonesty really shine through, and make the book unique, since books like these always seem to make people and actions either black or white. That even goes for our two leads, whose youthful enthusiasm and youthful ignorance leads to some of the more harrowing moments in the novel, where things that should have just been innocent turn deadly serious with real adult-like threats and consequences. I would be hard-pressed to call this high art, but for a book like this, it doesn’t matter. This was a visceral reading experience, full of anger and hate about those who know better when people tell them that four, long, miserable years are “the best years in their lives”. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Rating: 5/5

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