When I received Brutal Youth in the mail from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The cover is delightfully sinister, with a prep school jacket going up in flames, and the novel is blurbed by some pretty big names, including Stephen Chbosky, James Dashner, Gillian Flynn, and even Stephen King. I mean, when a book is blurbed by the one and only Stephen King, I obviously go in with really high expectations. The big question going into this reading was- would it stand up to all that hype?
When incoming freshman Peter Davidek arrives for his first day at Saint Michael’s, tensions are already high at the private Catholic school known best for its enrollment of expelled delinquents and overtly religious students. After a cruelly tormented upperclassman snaps and goes on a rampage, violently attacking cruel students and corrupt faculty, everyone is on high alert. But this sense of unrest does nothing to stop the culture of hazing that has gone on for years as a sort of tradition at Saint Michael’s. Peter befriends fellow freshman Noah Stein, who bears the scars of a tough past, as well as the beautiful and desperate Lorelei Paskal, and the three navigate the uneasy halls where upperclassmen senselessly torment freshman and haze them with no respite. It soon becomes clear that nobody can be trusted, with even the closest of friends hiding secrets and turning on one another.
As if the cruel upperclassmen vying for revenge weren’t bad enough, the faculty is corrupt and seems to be out to get the students in increasingly sinister ways. Father Mercedes is blackmailing students and running off with church funds; while the embittered guidance counselor Ms. Bromine is upholding the rampant bullying culture of Saint Michael’s in her own ways. As these students fight to make it through their day-to-day activities, alliances are formed and broken, and they find that it really is every student for himself.
This was one of the most thought-provoking and intense stories I’ve read in a long time. The Catholic school setting is the perfect backdrop for the corruption and terror that befalls these students, and with every page bringing a new agreement or a broken alliance; the plotting captivated me. From page one, this novel is packed with action that never lets up, from the initial rampage of an embittered and tormented student, to the final Hazing Picnic when things start to become very real for many of the students. Tensions are high throughout the book, and it is deliciously unclear whom the main characters can trust. Just when you think they’ve found someone to protect them and their secrets, another lie is told and it becomes clear that absolutely nobody in this book can be trusted.
Brutal Youth has a little bit of something for everyone. There are friendships being tested, romances being forged and then thwarted, and corrupt faculty out for only themselves. The book is listed as Young Adult, but often seems to veer over into Adult Literary Fiction. It will captivate audiences in a wide range of ages. Teens as well as older readers will identify with the spot-on feelings of adolescence, including feeling alone and misunderstood amongst peers, and will be riveted by the complex system of alliances and the underhanded motivations of the adults in this novel.
It’s been a long time since I devoured a 400-page novel in one sitting, but I did it with this book. I was absolutely unable to put it down.
This novel is full of emotion. You’ll feel the pain of the freshman as brutal hazing tests their limits, and you’ll cheer for them as they stand up for themselves and fight back against a cruel system that fails to protect them. Brutal Youth is fresh and unpredictable. It will have you turning pages at a clip, desperate to find out where each plot twist and turn will take these compelling characters.