Monday, May 12, 2014
Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
"Catholic school - as vicious as Roman Rule." (Death Cab for Cutie)
I really liked this book though it was very disturbing and dark. As a teacher, librarian and nurse at a Catholic high school, I have heard that phrase a million times since the song with those lyrics came out ~2005. There seems to be no end to the inventive ways that students find to torment each other. Though this book was set in the 1990s, many of the behaviors and problems described exist in school settings today. Students in high school are faced with academic pressure, shifting loyalties, betrayal, bullying, and other issues that so make these NOT the best days of their lives. The students in BRUTAL YOUTH come from different backgrounds and home situations that make their ability to succeed more difficult as kids compete with each other to stand out and be different while still wanting to belong to at least one group or clique. The blind eye or ignorance of what was really happening at St. Michael the Archangel was sort of unbelievable but definitely adults don't always get the real picture because students don't often confide the complete truth. A critical conversation or intervention by an observant teacher, mentor, coach or staff might have helped immensely -- I thought most of those employees should have been fired!
I originally thought this was a YA novel but I can see that it is not as I don't feel that most high school students would read between the lines for the insight that is there in the stories of the teens at SMTA school. The lack of resolution and the missing happy endings is difficult to accept because the reader, given the benefit of knowing the real inner workings of each character's mind, has definite thoughts and feelings as to how things should end. Consequences. Punishment? The level of abuse meted out to students under the watchful eyes of equally disturbed adults was horrific. I will be thinking about this book for a long time and I hope it keeps me mindful of the myriad ways in which I personally can be empathetic and helpful to the kids I interact with each day. Observant and open. Watchful and ready to step in to prevent the bullying or the "jokes" made at another's expense. Are students more vulnerable now given the impact of social media? I think everyone is potentially a target and that learning to handle it is one of the main learning experiences of the high school years, but no student should be left unprotected by the adults given the charge to keep them safe from mental and physical harm. The adults described in the book were horrible stereotypes of all the myths about Catholic school, but demonstrate how toxic an environment can be if allowed to go unchecked. I don't care what people say, any kind of "hazing" by upper classmen is inappropriate in a school community. Adults can and should model behavior that encourages students to be kind to one another and they should be vigilant to weed out and help break the cycle of "do unto others" when that means being cruel.
I'm sure I will be thinking about this novel for a long time and would love to discuss it with others. It was disturbing but pertinent. I'd recommend it.
4.5 stars Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book copy to review. May 11, 2014