“A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth–that is what I am after. Youth must be all those things. It must be indifferent to pain. There must be no weakness or tenderness in it. . . . I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men.” – Adolf Hitler, quoted by Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction
Anthony Breznican’s debut novel–which follows in the footsteps of such great, pessimistic boarding school novels as The Chocolate War, A Separate Peace, and The Lord of the Flies itself–crystallizes the rage of the genre in its title allusion to Hitler. The school he writes about is not merely bad for or indifferent to its students, but actively hateful and anti-intellectual. While we might debate the plausibility of such schools existing, there is no doubt that many students feel precisely this way about their educations–that their teachers and fellow students are there to torment them of force them into being something they are not. Breznican brilliantly plays on these fears, in this, already our second starred book of the month.
For those, like myself, planning on attending ALA Annual, you have a chance to meet Breznican on Sunday, June 29.
* BREZNICAN, Anthony. Brutal Youth. 416p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Bks. Jun. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250019356. LC 2014008498.
At St. Michael High School’s open house, prospective freshman Peter Davidek huddles behind a car on the parking lot, watching a deranged student topple statues of saints off the rooftop. Nearby, one boy has been hit, blood pooling under his head. When Davidek decides to brave a rescue attempt, he is joined by Noah Stein, who thus becomes Davidek’s sole friend and ally at this terrifying and surreal high school. Stein, marked by a scar covering the side of his face, seems to know no fear. While the entire freshman class suffers from the school’s traditional yearlong hazing rituals, Stein takes pleasure in baiting upperclassmen and teachers alike. Stein’s weakness is his love for Davidek and for Lorelei Pascal, a classmate whose beauty earns her especially vicious torment from older girls. Breznican’s debut novel is filled with tortured characters, from the devious Father Mercedes, gambling away precious school funds, to the despised Hannah Kraut, who has a notebook reputedly filled with everyone’s secrets. Davidek serves as our bewildered navigator through a story that confidently rips through tangles of high school insanity. The author molds real characters out of high school stereotypes, most notably the misfits, all struggling for a humble slice of dignity within St. Michael’s wretched, bleeding walls. The satiric narrative is as brilliantly hilarious as it is poignant and heartrending.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN