I am absolutely thrilled to be today’s stop on the BRUTAL YOUTH Blog Tour and to be able to share an awesome interview with Author Anthony Breznican, an excerpt from BRUTAL YOUTH, my review, and a giveaway.
I knew I would love this book from the moment I saw its title and read its description. It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. Wow. Just wow.
BRUTAL YOUTH released in paperback format last week, so if you haven’t yet had a chance to read it, now’s the perfect time to grab a copy and dive in. But if you’d like to know a little bit more about this amazing book, be sure to check out its description, the excerpt, and the Q&A with the author below.
This is one of those books that will make an impact. It have you repeating “Now that’s fucked up!” throughout the read. It will make you angry and sad and disturbed and more than a little horrified. It is abso-fucking-lutely brilliant and awesome and incredible.
About BRUTAL YOUTH
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Title: BRUTAL YOUTH
Author: Anthony Breznican
Release date: June 10, 2014 | PB release June 2, 2015
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Formats: Hardcover, paperback, audio, eBook
Freshman Peter Davidek only wants to stay out of trouble. All his combative friend Noah Stein wants is to fight back. And Lorelei Paskal, their shared crush, needs a safe haven from her horrible home life, so she’s desperate to make friends — no matter how many enemies she creates along the way. These three find themselves fighting for survival at St. Michael the Archangel High School, a once-prestigious institution that has become a crumbling dumping ground for delinquents, misfits, and the unlucky.
It’s a place where bullying is sanctioned as “fun and games” hazing, where the unwritten rule is you can’t hurt anyone who can hurt you back — and there’s no one to turn to because the adults are part of the problem. The parish priest is embezzling from the church, the guidance counselor is coming unhinged with rage and regret, and the well-intentioned nun who runs St. Mike’s mistakenly thinks compromise and cover-up can fix things.
A coming-of-age tale, a dark comedy, and a tragedy all rolled into one, Brutal Youth follows this band of students as they learn whether it’s possible to protect yourself without losing who you are.
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Q&A with Anthony Breznican
Q. If you had to describe BRUTAL YOUTH in 25 words or less, how would you describe it?
Weird. Angry. Funny. Sweet. Scary. Good kids trying to stay that way in a bad place, and some adults who got lost along the way.
Q. Of the three main characters in your novel – Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and Lorelei Paskal – who was your favorite to write for/about and who was your most challenging to write for/about? And why?
The three of them are trying to survive at this crumbling, corrupt school, and each faces that battle in different ways. Peter is a compromiser. He likes to help people and fix things on the small scale, but doesn’t want to take huge risks. Stein was the most fun to write because he likes to fight those big wars, and he’s fearless, but he doesn’t always choose the right cause.
Lorelei is what happens when you’re in siege mentality, where you’re desperate for a safe place, but undermine your good intentions by becoming your own worst enemy. Lorelei was hardest to write because a lot of what happens to her happened to real women I know, but a big part of her is also the part of myself that is trying very hard. Too hard, sometimes.
Q. How did you decide on the time period in which your story is set? What was it about the early ‘90s that drew you to it?
It was easier to be invisible back then, in both the good and bad sense. Times change, and we have self-surveillance on social media, and we’re only a cell call away from being found by friends and/or family. A generation ago, we might hang out with a different group for a while and try on a new identity without being judged by our friends. Or we might avoid home simply by staying out and about. You could find yourself without having to declare who you are first. I liked the idea of setting this story back when secret lives were a little easier to pull off.
Q. When researching for BRUTAL YOUTH, what was the most surprising thing you discovered?
I was shocked to learn the things I considered to be the worst possible cruelties were just the tip of the iceberg. Everything that happens in Brutal Youth has actually happened in real life to kids in high school. In fact, I’m seeing more and more articles about real kids today whose experiences mirror some of the storylines in the book.
Q. What was your favorite aspect of writing BRUTAL YOUTH – the plot, the characters, the setting, or something else?
I liked building the plot. Brutal Youth is an ensemble story with a lot of characters and all of their stories intersect and turn each other like a series of gears. I loved piecing those stories together. What the crooked, thieving priest does to hide his crimes has consequences for the senior girl who is collecting people’s darkest secrets so she can blackmail herself to safety. And what she does influences how one of the freshman tries to establish respect from the upperclassmen. The story is sort of a madness machine – until some characters decide to lay themselves on the gears to make them stop.
Q. If readers could take away one thing from having read BRUTAL YOUTH what would you hope it would be?
To have a little more compassion for the outsider. I also hope it shows how corruption and bullying is the result of a system, not just some lone jerk. Sometimes a pack mentality sets in and a group of people loses sight of their empathy. They egg each other on. It’s rarely one bad apple. It’s usually a bad orchard – tended by a bad farmer.
Q. BRUTAL YOUTH is your debut novel but you have a background, and are currently working, in journalism. Have you always wanted to be a novelist? What made you take the leap and write a novel?
I’ve always loved storytelling. That’s what drew me to journalism. I started out covering police, politics, wildfires, plane crashes, protests and things like that as a general news reporter, but eventually gravitated toward pop culture reporting because I love picking the brains of creative people. After writing about other storytellers for so long in Entertainment Weekly, it was a thrill to tell a story of my own with Brutal Youth.
Q. How has writing a novel differed in how you approach your story vs. how you tackle those for the publications you’ve worked for?
They are surprisingly similar. With journalism, you’re assembling a story from notes and recordings and experiences you’ve gathered from real life. With fiction, you’re doing the same thing but assembling them with elements of your imagination.
The funny thing is, with fiction you actually have less leeway to go off the rails. For instance, the priest I mentioned who steals from the collection plate in Brutal Youth? That’s based on a real priest from my hometown whose story was far wilder, but I had to dial it back in the novel because it would have been too hard to believe. (It’s still pretty crazy.)
Q. What has it been like being on the other side of the media as an author?
It’s awesome. I get to have conversations like these with people like you. I love talking to people who love stories as much as I do. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
Q. What was your freshman year in high school like?
I was shy, but I compensated by being a smartass – which only got me in trouble.
Q. Did you have any/all of the same challenges or obstacles that your characters had?
Definitely. At my school, they had a sanctioned season of hazing, which was meant to bond the newcomers and allow the older kids to let off steam. The adults thought it was “fun and games,” but when they weren’t looking it could get disturbing fast. And if you didn’t play along you were isolated even more.
Q. Were any of the events in BRUTAL YOUTH inspired by those from your – or those you knew in high school’s – experiences?
One older girl I knew from that time got in touch and asked if the character Hannah was inspired by her. Hannah is a badass who fights back against an ugly slut-shaming rumor by compiling a notebook full of everyone else’s humiliating secrets. The truth is, yes, she was inspired by this girl – who learned to be tough because she had to be. A lot of the things that happen in the book happened in real life, or happened to someone I knew. The priest, for example. What a villainous bastard! I had to include him. A bad leader has ripple effects all through an organization.
But also, a lot of the GOOD things that happen in the novel also happened in real life. We all remember the hard times and trials of being a teenager, but when we think back to those harrowing days we remember our friendships most of all. The characters in Brutal Youth are never stronger than when they decide to stand up for somebody else, even when it costs them. The point of the novel is the main thing I learned from growing up: Good guys don’t always win, but there’s victory in just having been good.
About Anthony Breznican
(Photo credit: Christopher Beyer)
Anthony Breznican was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsurgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today. He is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly.
Brutal Youth is his debut novel.
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What an incredible and horrible and disturbing and amazing and sad and tragic and totally fucked up story BRUTAL YOUTH is. It’s a story that will not only leave its mark, it will brand it on you. It’s not just a read, it’s an experience. It’s harsh. It’s ugly. It’s terrible. It’s phenomenal.
This story is not just about the events, about what happens, it’s about the characters. Each character’s story overlaps with another’s, is impacted by another’s, is interwoven with another’s. Every single one of them is damaged, flawed, self-centered, selfish. Students, teachers, parents, acquaintances, friends, enemies, authority figures alike – all are some combination of broken, misguided, disillusioned, indifferent, capricious, vengeful, greedy, vindictive, harmful. Their behavior serves to perpetuate the problems rather than solve them.
BRUTAL YOUTH introduces a number of characters whose experiences have informed the people they are. Such as Peter Davidek, whose family’s failures and weaknesses have turned them jaded, angry and disinterested, and have shown him just how alone he is and just how hard he’ll have to fight to get what he needs. Or Noah Stein, a “fixer,” whose childhood ordeals left him scarred and angry. Or Lorelei Paskal, whose abusive mother and spineless father left her desperate for acceptance and made her cruel. Or Hannah Kraut, whose early loss made her feel deserving of the harassment she endured.
From the bullied students who are looking to give back what they got, to the overwhelmed nun who is willing to look the other way in order to hold onto what she has and attempt to keep the school together, to the dishonest priest who’s looking to cover his ass and is willing to take down anyone and anything that gets in his way, to the embittered guidance counselor who lashes out in a desperate attempt to maintain control as her life passes her by – every single one brings something to this story. Each contributes to the problems that are plaguing St. Michael. Each bears some responsibility for what happens. Each is affected by the events that take place and by the actions taken by themselves and others. Not a one is left unscathed.
Anthony Breznican has written a brilliant and dark and unsettling novel. His storytelling, with the multiple points of view and overlapping timelines, gives readers the sense that everything is connected and that no one thing or person is more important than another to the story and its outcome. He thrusts readers into this crazy, messed up, chaotic existence at St. Michael and lets them experience it from a number of different angles, none of which offer much, if any, hope of change for the better.
From the start, BRUTAL YOUTH paints a picture that is alarming, shocking, chilling. It offers much to think about with its insights and ideas about human behavior. It adds a touch of dark humor with its ironic setting – a dilapidated Catholic school whose church was burned to the ground on Christmas and whose leaders’ moral compasses are severely bent, if not broken. And it promises to keep readers riveted as every one of its disconcerting, disquieting, horrifying events unfold with the appalling behavior of its characters.
If you only pick up one book to read this year, make BRUTAL YOUTH the book.
Like In-N-Out Burger‘s infamous secret menu this one deserves my off-the-menu 6 star rating.
NOTE: This review is based on a finished copy received from the publisher in exchange for my honest thoughts about the book.
Here’s a nice long excerpt of The Prologue which is guaranteed to make you want to keep reading.
Download (PDF, 128KB)
The publisher has offered up a copy of the book for giveaway to ONE winner – US ONLY
- Must be 13 or older to enter
- There will be ONE winner
- Giveaway is US ONLY
- Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. on June 16, 2015
- Winner will be chosen by Random via Rafflecopter
- Winner will be announced in the form and contacted by email
- Winner has 72 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen
There are no requirements to like or follow. But there are a few extra entries for following the author on social media and adding the book to Goodreads.
Enter in the Rafflecopter below…
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A Few Stops on the Tour So Far
June 3rd | The Mod Podge Bookshelf – Excerpt + Giveaway
June 3rd | Read Write Love 28 – Q&A + Excerpt
June 4th | The Reading Nook Reviews – Guest Post + Giveaway
June 5th | Once Upon a Twilight – Excerpt + Giveaway
June 5th | Britt’s Book Blog – Review + Excerpt
June 6th | Carmel and Kyla – Review
June 7th | Addicted 2 Novels – Excerpt + Giveaway
June 8th | Bookishhh – Review + Giveaway
June 9th | The Novel Hermit – Guest Post + Giveaway
June 9th | Curling Up With A Good Book – Interview