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4.2 11
by Michael Harmon

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With her martyr-doctor mother gone to save lives in some South American country, Poe Holly suddenly finds herself on the suburban doorstep of the father she never knew, who also happens to be a counselor at her new high school. She misses Los Angeles. She misses the guys in her punk band. Weirdly, she even misses the shouting matches she used to have with her mom.


With her martyr-doctor mother gone to save lives in some South American country, Poe Holly suddenly finds herself on the suburban doorstep of the father she never knew, who also happens to be a counselor at her new high school. She misses Los Angeles. She misses the guys in her punk band. Weirdly, she even misses the shouting matches she used to have with her mom.

But Poe manages to find a few friends: Theo, the cute guy in the anarchy Tshirt, and Velveeta, her oddly likeable neighbor—and a born victim who’s the butt of every prank at Benders High. But when the pranks turn deadly at the hands of invincible football star Colby Morris, Poe knows she’s got to fix the system and take down the hero.

With insightfulness, spot-on dialogue, and a swiftly paced plot, Michael Harmon tells the story of a displaced girl grappling with a truly dangerous bully.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
When sixteen-year-old Poe Holly, abandoned by her narcissistic, globe-trotting mother and sent to live with her hitherto absent father, moves from Los Angeles to a picture perfect small town in California's wine country, she expects nothing but sterile conformity—and in a book that unseats no stereotypes, that is exactly what she finds. Smugly status-conscious teachers serve on the high school's "Committee of Equality and Fairness," but work systematically to promote inequality and unfairness by favoring the brutal jocks of the novel's title and the pampered darlings of wealthy and influential parents over any students who look, dress, act, or think differently. In the one more complex portrait in the novel, Poe's guidance counselor father is genuinely torn between loyalty to the school's alleged values and love for the rebellious daughter he is coming to know and understand. But his attempts to intervene in the school's culture to offer an anti-harassment seminar cannot prevent an impending murderous tragedy. Only Poe and her similarly nonconformist and disenfranchised boyfriend can do that. The heavy handed—but sadly plausible—message of the book is directed at adults rather than at young readers, though it is one with which teens will doubtless be sympathetic: brutal school bullying is the fault of adults who at best turn a blind eye toward it, and at worst actively support the structures that perpetrate it. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Poe Holly's mother has left for South America, obviously caring more about healing sick strangers in the jungle than being a parent to her own daughter. Sixteen-year-old Poe is sent off to live with her long-absent father in her mother's absence. Starting a new school, making new friends, and getting to know the man who is her father would be enough for any teen, but not for Poe. After meeting her much-picked-on neighbor, a misfit boy nicknamed Velveeta, she also takes on the crusade to change the school's unfair policies and end the reign of the bully making Velveeta's life miserable. Poe is a likable teen who speaks her mind and stands up for what she believes. The bullying and the strong language are realistic, and the author does not shy away from the violence of Velveeta's situation. Brutal can be just that, but teens who pick up this book will discover well-developed characters and a plot that seizes their attention at the very beginning and holds it captive throughout the story.-Heather E. Miller, Homewood Public Library, AL

Kirkus Reviews
An angry 16-year-old shakes up her school when she challenges its social order. When Poe moves from Los Angeles to suburban California to live with her father, a man she has no relationship with, she's furious: furious at her dynamo doctor of a mother for deserting her to take a year's sabbatical to care for the poor and furious at her dad for his neglect and emotional passivity. The focus of this highly charged novel is not Poe's dysfunctional family, however, but a question that has dogged high-school students from time immemorial. Why is it that the more socially elite students get to prey upon the less so? And the rather savvy answer Harmon comes up with is that it's because the adults who run the school allow it. A mention of Columbine at a faculty-student meeting somewhat negates this premise, as it reverses the power dynamic in readers' minds, and some of the characterizations, such as Poe's perfect boyfriend, seem more functional than fully human. Still, strong medicine with a strong message. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

If I'd known I'd be living in Benders Hollow, California, when I was sixteen, I would have traded back every complaint I had about my life for a bus ticket out of this place. No can do, though. I'm stuck here for a year. Then I'll be gone, back to Los Angeles and on my own.

I met Benders Hollow four minutes ago via a Greyhound bus because my mom, Dr. Nancy M. Holly, decided her "path" didn't include being a mom anymore. As I stepped on the bus to come here, she stepped on a private chartered jet, headed to some South American jungle village to help "world citizens" lance boils and disinfect festering monkey bites. All so she could come back and tell her doctor friends how she helped the underprivileged peons she looks down her long nose at.

Not that I'm complaining. At this point I don't care if I see her until I get a monkey bite. I get in the way of her life, and we're like gunpowder and lightning together. First it was two weeks in Syria helping refugees. She missed my seventh-grade graduation for that one. Then it was a month in Africa. Scratch my fifteenth birthday for that trip, but add a purple Mohawk to greet her when she got back. Sometimes spite tastes sweet, and she refused to take me to any of her "functions" because it's not who you are, it's what you look like, and until I looked normal, I was out of the loop. Damn, no more jumbo shrimp cocktail and old pervert doctors ogling my ass.
Now it's a year in South America. I don't even know what country. I didn't ask.

Not that her being gone is much different from her being here, because even when she's here, she's gone. Whatever. My mom is saving the world one person at a time, she likes to say. I like to ask her how it feels to think you're a god. She rolls her eyes and walks away.

I'm in a no-win situation, though, and I know it. Poor disaffected me. We're rich. I've been quietly "transferred" out of three high-end private schools due to my inability to follow stupid rules. My last school counselor asked me how I could possibly complain about having such a great life and wonderful mother. Yeah, everybody loves her, and she loves everybody loving her. For such a stupid and lame question, I started crying before I got pissed about it. My mom cares more about strangers than about me.
She saves lives and that's good, and I love her because she's not always as selfish and egotistical as it seems, but it ends with the one thing more important than her status. Money. I asked her how many families she put through bankruptcy while she was saving their lives and she didn't speak to me for a week.

Anyway, now she's working as a surgeon in remote parts of a jungle where her daughter isn't, and I'm in Benders Hollow to meet my father for the first time because she wouldn't let me stay home alone. It's not like I haven't taken care of myself since I was ten, and it's not like he has. I can order out. I know how to use a toaster. Big deal. No different from when she's in town.

My mom likes telling me I'm spoiled. I'm a rich kid stuck in a not-rich-kid mind. She says I am who I am because I'm reactionary to her perfectness. But I'm not. I fit nowhere in her life, and the embarrassment I see in her face and the way she falters and casts her eyes away when she introduces me to "colleagues" makes me want to vomit on her four-hundred-dollar shoes. But I know who I am. I'm Poe Holly, and I'm pissed off.


I recognized him from a picture I saw once, but more than that, I recognized his voice. I'd talked to him a few times before. Once at Christmas when I was ten, another time on my birthday, and then after I'd been caught drinking last year in the locker room of my last private school. My mother's daughter doesn't get suspended. It was decided Oak Grove Preparatory School was not good enough for me.

I saw the resemblance in his eyes. The color of flagstone, just like mine. Other than that, he was totally and completely average. He could be any Joe Schmoe walking down the street in a small town: slim build, beige jeans, and a tucked-in slate green short-sleeved polo shirt. Every woman's dream if her dream was bland: he was about as clean-cut and boring as you could be. The only thing cool about him was that he wasn't wearing an article of clothing worth over fifty dollars. Maybe we'd get along.

His hair was cut ultra-conservative, dark brown like mine if I didn't dye it black, and he was clean-shaven and looked older than I had imagined. I knew he was thirty-five, but his face was a bit drawn and the shade under his eyes reminded me of a person who read too much. He smiled, standing with his hands in his pockets. I could tell he was nervous. I stepped toward him. "Hi."

He nodded, shifting his feet. "Hello."

We stood there, me in my punk getup and him looking completely forgettable with his loafers and neatly parted hair. I hitched my bag on my shoulder, wondering if this had been a good idea. "You're not holding a sign."

He blinked, then furrowed his brow.

"A sign. Like at an airport. It's supposed to say my name. Poe Holly. So I don't miss you in the crowd."

He brightened, then smiled, looking around the vacant sidewalk. "Nobody else got off at this stop."

"I was the only one on the bus. I take it the usual tourists don't come by Greyhound."

He laughed. "Benders Hollow isn't Los Angeles, and no, they don't."
I looked around, taking in the touristy setting. Mom had offered to have a limo bring me up. "Seven hours on a bus?" she'd said. "Poe . . ." Blah blah blah. I sighed. "Well, I'm here."

He held his hand out. "Let me take your bag." He took it, then looked to the bus idling at the curb. "Any more baggage?"

"Mom wouldn't fit in a suitcase."

He smiled, but a darkness passed through his eyes. Then he slung the huge thing over his back and we walked down the street. "That's why I like it."

"Like what?"

"Benders Hollow."

I looked around. It looked like a small town to me, all right. "Why?"

He chuckled, but barely loud enough to hear. "Because it's not Los Angeles."

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Michael Harmon is the author of Skate (“A remarkable first novel” according to Kirkus Reviews) and The Last Exit to Normal (“An excellent read” according to a starred School Library Journal review). He lives in Washington state.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Brutal 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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epicrat More than 1 year ago
Brutal came at a great time in my reading life - Poe was like the literary Veronica Mars minus the mystery, but with that same sort of sass. I always had a soft spot for the rebels with a cause, and high school is always full of surprises and drama that somehow never gets too old. Occasionally Poe goes a little overboard in her rampage, pushing away her well-meaning but spineless father, the cute rebel boy, the spoiled but nice-on-the-inside cheerleader, and everyone else on the planet. No one told her that a little sugary compromise can go a long way in trying to win people over to her cause. I was pleasantly surprised with Brutal. The humor was spot-on, and I laughed at some of the causes Poe chose to highlight such as the gym uniform policy. Everyone in the book - at least, those close to Poe - had great page time, and they had several likable qualities that softened the hard shell known as Poe. Last but not least, I cannot fail to mention the quirky nod to the cheese-lovers with names such as Velveeta and Colby. Is there any symbolism if Colby was the bully and Velveeta the victim? Or how about Velveeta winning in the end? Definitely some things to think about... And, when I start talking about cheese, that is a sure sign that this review is at a close.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brutal By Michael Harmon Pub. Date: March 2009 4 out of 5 stars PG-13 - Vulgar Profanity, Violence, and Sexual Humor Recommended Poe has both an absent mother and a once long gone father pushing equality and "be-like-everyone-else" indoctrination upon her. Everywhere she turns, school, home, choir, and politics, are full of candy-coated creativity and uniqueness crushers. unless you are one of the rich, beautiful, atheletic elite. Poe is tired of the "equality" system only applying to the downtrodden and the unfairness of the supposedly "fair" solutions. When one of her new, odd friends gets cruelly beaten, she begins to truly battle the sick system at the corrupted core. But how ca she possibly take down the bad guys when they honestly think they are the good guys? Brutal was very provocative and held a lot of depth despite its small size. It had a crazy and real introspective view that had me thinking over ordinary things twice. I loved the sarcasm, stinging wit, and banter because they were unbridled truth. The strong-willed voice of the story was a great role model. She wouldn't take things sitting down, she never had sex with her boyfriend, and she repented. After being made known of her sin and realizing she had done wrong, she would repent. And I was always able to forgive her. I would suggest this book to older teens, especially because of the frequent use of the f-word. I really enjoyed this book and I plan on reading Harmon's other books in the future. Date Reviewed: April 12th, 2009 For more book reviews and book information check out my blog at www.inthecurrent.blogspot.com
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
When sixteen-year-old Poe Holly's doctor mother decides to take her practice to the jungles of South America for a year, Poe finds herself living with the father she has never really known. She was a baby the last time her parents were in the same room together, and now she's moving into his house. Since her mother is usually busy 24/7, Poe is used to living on her own. It's a welcome relief to find out her father is willing to allow her a fair amount of freedom, but his neat and tidy house soon becomes her home, and she is surprised how much she enjoys it. The shared meals and conversation aren't nearly as dreadful as she anticipated. The major weird thing about the arrangement is that when Poe starts school at the local high school, she's not sure how to handle the fact that David Holly, her newly inherited dad, is the school counselor. Life in Benders Hollow is way different than the punk rocker life Poe is used to. Music is her life, and leaving her band was one of the hardest things she had to do. When her father suggests she could join the school choir and maybe even be one of their soloists, she rejects the idea as too lame to even consider. But after some contemplation, Poe stops in to visit the music teacher. After hearing Poe's incredible voice, Mrs. Baird promises her a spot as the principal soloist. The result of that offer is one of Poe's first experiences with just exactly how the town of Benders Hollow works. Poe soon learns that at Benders Hollow High School a select few have all the power. Although the school brags about its tolerance and its dedication to keeping its halls bully-free, Poe soon learns that the select few can do and say anything they want - and those in authority will look the other way. Her father's odd neighbor, Velveeta, is a target for the rampant cruelty of Benders Hollow, and he provides just the reason Poe needs to stir things up a bit at her new school. If you haven't had the pleasure of reading Michael Harmon, BRUTAL is a book you won't want to miss. His previous books, SKATE and THE LAST EXIT TO NORMAL, are excellent, but BRUTAL takes the prize in my opinion. Poe is an independent thinker, and the way she champions the underdog should be an example to us all. She is a terrific combination of the two people who have parented her in such different ways. Our world would be a better place if more of us reacted to injustice like Poe did.
Alecsuhs More than 1 year ago
I'm not totally finished with the book (have one chapter to go) but i couldn't wait to write a review! If you've read skate and last exit to normal (like i have) then you realize that Michael Harmon's writing style is pretty much the same in all of the books (which isn't really a bad thing) but I can't stand the main character... Poe. In the begining of the book I figured... "I'll probably like this character since she's got a lot of backbone." Well apparently she has to much. She thinks that everyone is out to get her! Which gets pretty annoying after a while. She likes to have pity parties which are absolutley annoying. She thinks everyone else is so horrible when really she's the horrible person. But besides the horrible Poe all the other characters where fantastic! Theo is a amazing, sarcastic, funny type guy and Velveeta is this dorky boy who makes me laugh outloud. This book is pretty good but if you you can't handle Poe... it might just ruin the book for you. Michael Harmon is a great writer though :D