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Damn, Kids

Be thankful that your high school experience wasn’t like the one in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth. (Or, if it was, I’m SO sorry.)

Damn, Kids

BOOK REPORT for Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Cover Story: Stop, Drop and Roll
BFF Charm: So Many Nays
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Are You There, God?
Trigger Warnings: Bullying, Attempted Suicide
Bonus Factor: Not My High School
Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting, Slut Shaming
Relationship Status: Too Old for this Shizz

Cover Story: Stop, Drop and Roll

This cover fits the story within to a T. The preppy blazer with the lapel patch. The clip-on red tie. The cover designer was really paying attention to the story and the themes.

Even if you haven’t read the story, however, this cover is very powerful, and certainly drew me in from the very start.

The Deal:

Life at St. Michael the Archangel High School is not easy. For decades, the seniors have taken it upon themselves to haze the freshmen. It might have started out as innocent fun, but over the years it’s become a brutal, cyclical tradition—and there’s no end in sight.

BFF Charm: So Many Nays

Brutal Youth has many main characters—so many, in fact, that it’s hard to determine who, really, this book is about. And even though most of them start out as sympathetic characters, by the end of the book, I liked/would want to be friends with none of them.

I had high hopes for two of the main kids, freshmen Peter Davidek and Noah Stein, but their promise at the start of the book was diminished greatly by their actions and their “growth” as the book progressed.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Although there’s a scene involving teenage hormones in Brutal Youth, it’s not swoonworthy. Also, it’s hard, in a book in which most people are out to hurt each other, to find much time for romance.

Talky Talk: Are You There, God?

Brutal Youth is supposedly (according to the back cover blurb) about three freshmen, but the book doesn’t always focus on those three students. It sometimes focuses on them, sometimes on other students, sometimes on teachers. Anthony Breznican made a smart decision to write this book in third-person so that he could jump from person to person (and internal thoughts to internal thoughts) to create more well-rounded characters. And his characters certainly are complex. But complexity doesn’t always make for good characters.

Brutal Youth is well-written and distinctive. It’s full of unique individuals, all of whom are recognizable as such. But it’s not a fun read. Books don’t have to be easy. In fact, I like a book that makes me think. But I have a really hard time enjoying a book when there’s really no one to root for.

Trigger Warnings: Bullying, Attempted Suicide

As I’ve mentioned above, very few characters in this book are sympathetic. They’re terrible to their friends, their family, themselves. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there’s a lot of bullying in Brutal Youth, as well as instances of the terrible things that bullying sometimes leads to.

Side note: This is the fourth Book Report in a row in which I’ve had to include a note about trigger warnings. I really need to plan for some lighter fare next month.

Bonus Factor: Not My High School

Multiple times while reading Brutal Youth, I found myself thanking my lucky stars that the experience depicted in the book was no where near my own experience in high school. My experience wasn’t perfect, of course, and I’m sure the many* years since I walked the halls of Rogue River High School have somewhat dulled any harsh feelings I might have had, but it was night and day better than that of the poor kids’ at St. Mike’s.

*I don’t really want to discuss specifics.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting

Again—thanking the powers that be that I don’t have parents like the kids do in Brutal Youth. Although they’re not all bad, the bad ones are really awful.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Slut Shaming

Making someone feel bad about their sexuality—or assumed sexuality—seems to be a cornerstone of any bullying storyline. It’s particularly terrible in Brutal Youth.

Casting Call:

Dylan Sprayberry as Peter Davidek

Jamie Blackley as Noah Stein

Relationship Status: Too Old for this Shizz

Sorry, Book. The start of our date had a lot of promise, and I truly tried to see the deeper meaning behind your stories. But I just couldn’t find it, and was left with an icky feeling at the end of our date. I’m sorry you’ve had such a harsh time of things. But I just don’t think I’m going to be able to help you.

(Yes, we normally use Roger Murtaugh and his excellent quote as a BFF Charm, but I was feeling particularly negative about the characters rather than just feeling more mature.)

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from St. Martin’s. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Brutal Youth is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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