Book Review: Brutal Youth and Author Interview
By: Anthony Breznican
85% out of 100
Disclaimer: I received a review copy in exchange for an honest-opinion review from St. Martin's Griffin. This, however, does not change my opinion of the book in any way, shape, or form.
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.
What I Thought:
This book was very hard to read in the first half. I felt like it dragged on extremely slowly. I also didn't find the characters relatable, which made the book even harder to read. I also felt like this book was too serious for the mood I was in. I felt like reading lighthearted contemporaries, but this was deep and at some points quite depressing. The book was sometimes hard to keep up with. Some points during the book. The one thing I felt like stayed there the entire book was the suspense. I felt like the suspense was the only thing that kept me reading it to the second half. I liked the second half much better. It was easier to read once I broke the two hundred page mark. The suspense level also increased after the half way point, which kept me on my seat. The last fifty pages, however were very confusing but cool. I liked the ending and thought it was very thought provoking. I also think that this would be a better movie than book.
Summary of the Review:
I thought that it got better later in the book. Good ending. This wouldn't be the first thing for me to recommend to you, but not the last either.
Author Interview with Anthony Breznican:
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 The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today. He is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly. Brutal Youth is his debut novel.
1. When did you start writing creatively? What inspired you to do so?
When I was about 12 in 1989, I desperately wanted to see the movie Pet Sematary, but no adult would take me. My grandmother, Nunie, was always encouraging me to read and said, “It’s based on a novel by a guy named Stephen King. How about if I buy you the book instead?” I remember thinking: Ugh. A book? That sucks. But … since no one was taking me to see the film, I started reading it -- and it freaked me out something fierce.
I remember being struck by the fact that this King guy had created this terrifying, heartbreaking story with nothing but words on a page. As a kid, you have no say over your life, but when you write you are in total control. I loved that power and I loved Stephen King, so I started writing scary short stories, trying to be like him. The first one was called The Dare, and it was about a kid who digs up a dead body to impress some boys in his class. Another was called Window Image and it was about a reflection in a boy’s window that comes to life and whispers horrific things to him. I never realized it until just now, but I guess that story was about depression, which is something I’ve dealt with my whole life.
2. What's your advice for aspiring authors?
Finish it. Just get it done. Don’t let insecurity stop you. Once you have your terrible first draft, then turn that insecurity loose and let it chase you toward the better version of your story.
3. What's your favorite and least favorite part of being an author?
My favorite part is finding out someone has read it and felt moved by it. I love when people say Brutal Youth made them laugh because it’s meant to have some twisted absurdity in it. I just rambled about my love for Stephen King, and one of the best things that has ever happened to me is that he read it. He tweeted at me that it was “hilarious and horrifying.” If I could draw a dark chuckle out of someone, especially him, that’s a fist-pump moment.
Least favorite? That there are so few bookstores left. As a first-timer, it’s hard to be discovered if there are no shelves for people to browse.
4. Are the characters and setting similar to your past or did you completely make up everything?
I made up most of the characters and the mechanics of the plot, but almost everything that happens in the novel happened to me or to people I knew. Lorelei’s birthday party is a story from my wife’s childhood, and our real high school had sanctioned hazing that got pretty ugly when the adults weren’t looking. We also had a priest who was stealing from the church. That character in the book is actually a toned-down version of the real guy, whose story is beyond crazy.
5. What where some of your favorite books when you where in high school?
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding was a good one. Kids trying to survive on a dangerous island? I could relate. I wanted Brutal Youth to explore the same themes of authoritarianism, but with adults as part of the danger. I also really loved My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, about a young Hassidic Jew who finds himself ostracized because he longs to be an artist.
I was blown away by Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I saw it as a devastating love story on the level of Romeo & Juliet, although it’s about brotherhood rather than romantic love. We underestimate kids and their ability to grasp tragedy. But nobody knows better than teenagers that some things are out of our control. The idea of complete control over our fate is one of those rare fairy tales that people believe more as they get older.