Brutal Youth. The title of this book could not be more fitting. It just about cured me of any desire to ever work in a high school again. This intense story by Anthony Breznican paints a vivid picture of some of the most horrible teenagers, teachers, and parents to ever step foot in a school. Yeah…it’s that bad.
Brutal Youth is by no means a bad book. It’s actually a stellar piece of work, but it is often very upsetting…which is why it took me nearly two months to read it. I started reading it in July–when I was trying to gear up for another school year–and it started to color my feelings about going back to work, even though I work in an elementary school. For that reason, I had to put it aside until I felt prepared to handle what I was reading. Finally, this past weekend, I was ready, and I quickly reentered the disturbing world of St. Michael the Archangel High School.
Peter Davidek didn’t exactly want to attend St. Mike’s, especially after the incident on the roof during his introductory tour. A kid who’d been bullied relentlessly snapped and unleashed his wrath on the entire school. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the school.
Somehow, Peter ended up at St. Michael the Archangel High School even after the horrible event he witnessed in the spring. Now, he’s a freshman, and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that this school is much worse than he ever could have envisioned.
Most of the teachers simply don’t care. The guidance counselor is a hateful woman who seems to delight in others’ misery. The parish priest would like nothing more than for the school to close (and he’s got his own shameful reasons for that). Even the few adults who aren’t totally wretched seem to be hiding something.
If the teachers are bad at St. Mike’s, the students are worse. Hazing runs rampant, and the adults turn a blind eye for the sake of “tradition.” Freshmen are tortured, humiliated, and abused daily…all for the sake of the enjoyment of the upperclassmen (and some of the faculty), and some kids are willing to do just about anything to keep from becoming targets.
Peter sees all of this going on around him, and he tries to avoid trouble, but it usually seems to find him. It doesn’t really help that his best friend, Noah Stein, does his level best to antagonize everyone around him…making him a target that most of the school would like to take out. Peter has also unknowingly befriended the school’s most notorious pariah…and that puts Peter in a spotlight he never wanted.
This year at St. Mike’s will show Peter Davidek the absolute worst of humanity. He’ll see friends driven mad by the actions of sadistic bullies. He’ll see a girl he once liked become someone he’d do anything to avoid. He’ll see the appeal in getting revenge on those who oppress others. Peter will learn so much about himself and the world around him…and some of those lessons will be horrid and eye-opening.
How will this brutal year change Peter? Will he retreat into his own mind, or will he use what happens to grow stronger? I’ll leave that for you to discover…
I’m the first to admit that my own high school experiences were sometimes not great. If it hadn’t been for the band, I would have done my level best to graduate early. (I was the nerdy, fat girl who wore braces, glasses, and played the tuba. It’s something of an understatement to say that I was the target of bullies.) My experiences now seem like nothing after reading Brutal Youth.
The people in this book were absolutely awful, and very few of the characters had redeeming value. Even the characters I sort of liked did things that made me shake my head. The bullying scenarios in this book take torture to a whole new level and exhibit cruelty that I hope to never see. And I’m not just talking about kid-on-kid violence here, although that was bad enough. Teachers bullied teachers, the priest bullied everybody, and parents bullied their kids. No one escaped torment.
With a title like Brutal Youth, one might think that this is most definitely a YA book. I would have to disagree. In my opinion, this is an adult book with young adult characters. Quite frankly, some teens won’t be able to handle this book. (Profanity, while true to the story, is abundant, there’s quite a bit of violence, and the book contains pretty frank talk of sexual situations. It’s an upsetting, disturbing book that could contain some triggers for those who have been severely bullied or abused.)
Other teen readers, though, will find kindred spirits in Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and other “poor, unfortunate souls.” Sadly, they’ll identify with those who are bullied the worst, and Brutal Youth may give them a voice for expressing their feelings (though not in the way some people expressed themselves in the book, I hope).
Adults who read this book may find themselves reflecting–either positively or negatively–on their own high school experiences, and this could lead them to examine how “tradition” often fuels oppressive or aggressive behaviors.
Speaking (or writing) as an adult reader, I have to say that, while I was horrified by the actions of the kids in Brutal Youth, I was even more perturbed by what I saw of the adults. Which is worse: bullying someone to the point of violence, or turning a blind eye when it happens in front of you? Most of the adults in this book were guilty of the latter, and that can be viewed more harshly than the actual act of bullying. Kids at least have an excuse. They’re stupid sometimes, and their brains aren’t fully developed. What excuse do the adults have? Spite, jealousy, self-preservation? Is any excuse even valid here? I honestly don’t think so.
Well, I think I’ve said enough for one post. (Bullying is kind of a hot-button issue with me, so we’re lucky I’ve limited myself so much.)
If you’re looking for an intense, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking read, I suggest you give Brutal Youth a try. It’s not exactly an easy read, but it’s worth the time you put into it.
*I received a free review copy of Brutal Youth through Goodreads First Reads.*