Kids are mean. Anthony Breznican reminds you just how mean they can be with his debut novel, Brutal Youth.
Set in Pittsburgh, 1991, before the dawn of social media, Brutal Youth is alluring from cover to cover as it plunges the reader right into the hell that is St. Michael’s Catholic High School.
Hazing — bullying’s sweeter sister — is a long tradition at the financially troubled St. Michael’s. It’s a decrepit school, its enrollment is on the decline and so is its reputation.
Peter Davidek attends St. Michael’s open day only to be greeted by a student on the roof. Noah Stein is a troubled boy haunted by his childhood, and Lorelei Paskal just wants to be popular.
They are all freshmen at St. Michael’s and are inevitably introduced to the hazing ritual that goes on at the school. Don’t be fooled, the hazing at St. Michael’s isn’t sugarcoated with innocent pranks or teasing. It’s full on brutal abuse, both verbal and physical.
The brutal bullying is seemingly tolerated by the teachers, and the bitter school counselor because it “promotes bonding”.
The goal for Peter, Noah and Lorelei is to survive their freshman year. The trio form an unlikely alliance in an attempt to end the hazing ritual, but the adults in charge don’t offer much solace. St. Michael’s priest, Father Mercedes, turns a blind eye because he has his own ulterior motives.
From his explosive prologue to his powerful last page, Anthony Breznican delivers a truly fascinating and gripping read. Revealing any more details could potentially spoil the unpredictable story. It checks all the right marks to make this a perfect 5-star read.
Brutal Youth is filled with well-developed and unforgettable characters. We discover many of the teachers have lives as intriguing as those of their students, as we are drawn into the twisted thoughts and feelings of St. Michael’s staff. Even the most menacing of characters are presented with a depth that explains their motives, as Breznican reminds us that everyone has their reasons.
Brutal Youth flows, sucking you in with a crisp narrative that is filled with unexpected twists and turns and is one of those books that you never want to end.
Breznican raises thought-provoking questions about hazing, bullying and the consequences of that behavior in a time when cellphones weren’t on school playgrounds and social media bullying did not yet exist.
Brutal Youth screams movie all over it, and that’s not a bad thing. The vivid detail and emotional attachment you feel toward all the characters would make for a perfect film.
If you’ve ever wanted to go back to High School…think again.
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Anthony Breznican was born and raised in Pennsylvania. He has worked for USA Today and the Associated Press and currently is a senior writer at Entertainment Weekly. This is his first novel.
Brutal Youth is out now on paperback. Purchase your copy from Amazon