by Anthony Breznican
Published by St. Martin's Press // Thomas Dunne Books
on June 10, 2014
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.
From the moment I got a peek at the cover of Brutal Youth, I knew I had to read it. After reading the novel, I must commend the designers. The bold cover image is a perfect fit for the novel's contents -- a harrowing, no-holds-barred dissection of a train wreck of a Catholic school, of its profligately-swearing students, equally terrifying teachers, and the secrets it contains within its walls.
Some things in life are so gruesome, so disgusting, that you want to turn away, but you are held in place by the sick part of you that can't help but stare. St. Michael's is exactly this: a concoction of delinquent students and misguided faculty with even worse intentions. And I couldn't stop reading once I was hooked. Brutal Youth's main strength lies in its characters, in the way Breznican creates so many distinct voices and creates feelings of sympathy and hate in each of them. Throughout, I found my loyalties switching, from the tragically misled sad-girl to the revenge-plotting, enigmatic villain, and back again. The plot instantly engages, throwing us right into the action of the horror-filled first day of Davidek's freshman year. Say good-bye to your evening plans, because once you begin Brutal Youth, you won't want to stop until you've reached the dreaded climax.