Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that's even worse in Anthony Breznican's Brutal Youth
With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael's has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal --so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.
To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
ANTHONY BREZNICAN was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1998. He has worked as a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Associated Press, and USA Today, and is currently a senior staff writer for Entertainment Weekly. Brutal Youth is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Anthony Breznican
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Anthony Breznican
All rights reserved.
Six months later, Davidek stood again in St. Michael's parking lot, looking up through gray rainfall at the rooftop of the school. The destroyed saints had been replaced, glistening amid the surviving statues like new teeth in a decrepit smile. Water poured down the rust-colored stone walls of the school, turning the classroom windows into shimmering cascades of light.
It was the first day of the new school year, and Davidek stood silent and still, his gray slacks, white shirt, and blue blazer growing heavy in the falling rainwater. He couldn't believe he was here any more than his parents could believe him when he had come home from visiting St. Mike's with stories of stabbed faces, severed fingers, and projectile animal specimens.
"Don't make up stories," his father had said, showing him the local newspaper story about a janitor who was injured at St. Mike's in a roofing accident. "No mention of your daring rescue or a kid falling off the building."
"He fell, but he didn't land," Davidek said, making his father groan and his mother sigh.
Clink's attempt at a gruesome end was stymied by his infamous black bag. When he tipped off the roof, it was that strap Mr. Zimmer snagged as he lunged toward the falling boy. Zimmer's long, ropy muscles strained to hold the teenager aloft as the shrieking boy slashed at his arms, pleading to fall. In desperation, Zimmer had made a fist of his free hand and thrust it down into the boy's face — one, two, three, very fast punches. Clink's face reeled backwards as he went limp, and the teacher grabbed a second hold on his shirt, heaving him back up to safety.
When the police took control of the scene, Ms. Bromine was still fuming over the kiss Stein had used to distract her so Davidek could break free. She wanted both the boys arrested. "They, uh ... kissed you," the cop said flatly, more annoyed than amused. "Anybody else see this?"
Bromine demanded to see his superior officer.
The lieutenant who came over to her later told the ranting guidance counselor, "We got a kid with a stabbed face, a kid with a fractured skull, a guy with no fingers, a guy with a broken arm. And you've got —?"
"I've been sexually assaulted!" Bromine huffed. The lieutenant took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He said he'd bring it up with the principal, but Sister Maria had already heard the complaints and didn't believe them either. "I think Ms. Bromine is suffering a bit of anxiety," she said. The lieutenant nodded. "She can get in line," he sighed, and pretended to write in his notebook because Ms. Bromine was watching them.
Mr. Mankowski was taken away in a stretcher that held his neck between giant red pads. The janitor was wheeled away, moaning, reaching back toward another EMT, who carried a white towel with the old man's fingers inside.
After the unconscious boy Davidek had rescued was taken away in an ambulance, the lieutenant came over to talk to the visiting eighth-grader. He wore a silver name tag beneath his badge — BELLOWS. He wanted Davidek's name and address, but the boy told him he'd already given all that information to another officer.
"It's not for the report," Lieutenant Bellows said. "It's for somebody else."
The lieutenant shrugged. "Maybe someone wants to send you a thank-you card."
* * *
Davidek began reading the paper every day, knowing there had to be an update, some follow-up, some explanation about what had happened. But there was nothing, not even a week later. "I think I saw something about it on CNN," Bill Davidek said at dinner. "'Playground fight at local school,' right?" The old man scratched his beard with a self-satisfied smile.
"Come on, Dad! That guy jumped off the roof! He almost killed himself!" Davidek said, his cheeks stuffed with food. "He chopped off a dude's fingers! ..."
Davidek's mother clanged her fork and knife flat on the table. "For God's sake, we're eating fish sticks," she said.
The table went silent. After a while, June Davidek spoke to her husband without looking up. "You know, they say these private schools look better on a college application than ever before. Really helps a student stand out. I just saw something about that in Reader's Digest. ..."
Her husband frowned. "We pay taxes. And those taxes pay for the public schools. You don't pay for groceries at one store, leave them there, and then go buy them again at another store, do you? So why would we pay for St. Mike's? Because they wear little suits and ties? Because they think they're smarter than everybody else?"
Davidek's mother was silent. Then she ventured: "If we weren't paying though ...," and Davidek's father stiffened.
"I said we're done talking about that," he said.
Their son asked, "Talking about what?"
Bill Davidek pointed a fork at Peter's plate. "Eat your fish dicks," he said, which made his son laugh, and made his wife clang down her silverware again.
Bill had once been a student at St. Mike's, but it was a sore subject — he dropped out after two years, though nowadays that was the only part he seemed proud of. He finished up at public school only because it was a requirement to get hired at the Kees-Northson Steel Mill over in Brackenridge, which was just down the hill from St. Mike's. It irritated him to see it every day as he left work, and irritated him more that his wife never stopped fetishizing the place.
She had always wanted to attend, though her parents refused. (It was one of the only things Bill liked about her family.) When the time came, June had insisted they enroll their older son, Charlie, in the school. Charlie was seven years older than Peter, who remembered those fights well from his hiding place under the dining room table. He even remembered the line his mother would use: "This is how we make our boy into something better than his father." Bill complained he was paying tuition only so June could brag to her card club. He was partly right. "It's expensive, but my Charles is worth it," she used to tell her friends. She always called him Charles around other people.
Davidek and Charlie weren't close, partly due to the age difference. Davidek's most vivid memories of his big brother were about getting pushed around by him. Charlie was always bigger, so all he needed to do was lie on top of his baby brother, smothering him, to win any fight. Then Davidek discovered a foolproof self-defense: The Purple Nurple, aka the Titty-Twister — a tried and true fight move every younger sibling learns after being repeatedly crushed by an overpowering foe. Charlie would rear back, clutching his aching areola, cursing his little brother's name. "Fucking, Peter ... Fuck!"
Charlie's name was off-limits in the Davidek house now, except during arguments — which their dinner conversation was now turning into. "I just think private school would give Peter an advantage," June said. "It's an investment in the future."
Her husband jerked his thumb at the empty fourth seat beside the table, where Charlie used to sit. "That one turned out to be a real good investment in the future, too, didn't he?"
After St. Mike's, Charlie Davidek had spent the next four years getting drunk and fucking up. He flunked out of two colleges. Then he moved back home and spent a couple years working part-time for a landscaping company, and warring full-time with his parents. When they finally made him start paying rent and reimbursing them for whatever he ate out of the refrigerator, Charlie joined the Marines, fleeing Pittsburgh for Camp Pendelton outside San Diego. Enlistment made Charlie someone the Davideks could be proud of again.
They had Charlie's military portrait enlarged so it could hang in the center of their staircase. Beside it he hung a snapshot of Bill fishing with a six-year-old Charlie, and Charlie's scowling senior picture from St. Mike's. June kept a small version of the military portrait in her wallet, by her credit cards, which allowed her to accidentally-on-purpose show him off to random bank tellers and grocery store clerks.
Then, a year into his service, Charlie had gone AWOL. The family found out when some men from the local recruiting office visited the house to ask whether they'd had any contact with their missing son. Months later, a letter arrived from Arkansas — no return address — where Charlie said he was working in a garage. He said he was okay, and told them not to worry. He didn't explain why he'd gone AWOL, but nobody really wondered. Charlie (and another guy from his unit) had taken off in late summer of 1990, just a few weeks after Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait, and Americans started tying yellow ribbons around trees. When Davidek's father turned his son's letter over to the Marines, they offered to mail back a copy. "Don't bother," he said. "I never want to hear from that coward again."
All the pictures of Charlie were gone now, even the ones from when he was little. When Charlie's name did come up, it was usually as a way for Bill Davidek to trash the school he always hated. "Four years at St. Mike's. Thousands of dollars down the toilet," he said. "We might as well have burned it to warm the house."
Their younger son, Peter, was happy to go to Valley with the rest of his friends — Chad Junod; Billy Fularz; the Peters twins, Matt and Mark. It bothered him that his mother kept talking about the Catholic school like it was even a possibility. It bothered his father, too. "I don't want to talk to you about this anymore," he said.
June shrugged. She twirled a fish stick on her plate. Bill Davidek nodded at his son, who smiled when his dad said: "Nobody's going to St. Mike's."
* * *
The Big Texan changed that.
It was late July. Davidek noticed the silver Porsche parked in front of their house as he rode his bike around from the backyard. Nobody in their neighborhood drove a car like that, and if they did, they wouldn't park it in the street. The Davideks lived on a main strip through a part of town known as Parnassus, right along the Allegheny River. There was a sand and gravel company at the water's edge that sent massive dump trucks rumbling down their street all day, spilling flecks of grit and stones against the windshields and paint jobs of those too stupid not to use their driveways.
Through the living room window, Davidek could see a large man in an immaculate gray suit, with an open-collar ivory shirt and a tan bald head rimmed by a corona of gray hair. His teeth were huge and white and perfect.
Davidek immediately thought of him as The Big Texan. No one ever told the boy his real name, and he reminded Davidek of one of those cheerful tycoons featured in a glossy business magazine, one hand propped against an oil derrick and the other waving hundred-dollar bills in the wind.
When Davidek went inside, The Big Texan was laughing and assuring Davidek's parents that they were smart people for making a decision like this, very smart indeed. Davidek's father stood by the fireplace, his arms crossed, looking unconvinced. Davidek's mother sat on the couch, her hands folded primly in her lap, grinning like someone who'd just won an argument. For some reason, she was wearing the red cocktail dress that she saved for parties or formal occasions. Davidek's father was in dirty jeans and a UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL 1196 T-shirt, which had creases like it had just been taken out of the bottom of a drawer for this occasion.
The conversation stopped when they saw Peter.
"This must be the boy! I mean, the young man!" boomed The Big Texan, extending an arm and swallowing Davidek's hand in a grip that was surprisingly gentle, like a bodybuilder shaking hands with a baby. "Did your parents tell you about me?" the stranger asked.
Davidek's father fixed him with a hard expression and nodded his head slightly, so the boy said, "Uh ... yeah, I think so."
The stranger looked very pleased. "Your mom and dad have been talking with me for a few weeks, but they drive a hard bargain," he said. "They're very protective of their little son. ... But I think they've finally come around."
Davidek's father stared at the floor. His mother kept shaking her foot, like she wanted to dance. The stranger leaned down close, like he was sharing a secret. "Peter, I want you to know that school changed my life. And it changed your father's life, even if he doesn't like to admit it." He put a hand on Davidek's shoulder. "It's going to change your life, too."
Davidek studied his parents for some sign of what was happening. The Big Texan leaned back and said, "We'll work out all the dollars and cents later. Cross the i's and dot the t's, and all that." He nudged Davidek, who laughed with him uncertainly.
Davidek's father extended his hand, albeit reluctantly, but the stranger surprised him with a bear hug instead, pinning his arms at his sides. "Been too long, Billy boy," The Big Texan said. "Too long, by half."
Moments later, the Porsche was roaring away into the sunset. Hi-yo, silver sportscar, away.
"Who the hell was that?" the boy demanded.
Davidek's father walked out of the room while Davidek's mother explained, "That man was from the parish over at St. Michael's. He thinks you'd be a good student there."
Her voice dropped to a whisper. "He's been calling for weeks," she said. "He's friends with your father."
"We're not friends," Bill Davidek said, storming back into the room.
The boy narrowed his eyes, not understanding. "But ... I'm already signed up at Valley." He looked back and forth between his mother and father. Neither one looked back at him.
* * *
That's how, on the first day of his first year of high school, Peter Davidek found himself in the rain outside St. Michael the Archangel.
He and his mother were fighting as she drove him into the parking lot. Not only was Davidek unhappy to be there, but his mother had also failed to buy him a standard uniform-regulation red tie. Instead, June had given him a hand-me-down clip-on from when Charlie was in grade school. "It's basically the same," she said.
It was not the same. It was too short, and too fat, and the little silver clip stuck out at the top, poking into Davidek's throat. It also hung crooked on his collar no matter how much he fussed with it. "Please don't make me wear this," he said.
"Everybody at St. Mike's wears a tie," she answered, checking her lipstick in the rearview mirror. Behind them, a yellow school bus pulled into the lot, and a cluster of similarly uniformed kids shuffled out, scurrying to the school as they opened umbrellas or held book bags over their heads. "See!" June said. "Those boys have red ties."
"Mom, this isn't like those."
His mother pushed a button, unlocking the minivan doors. "Well, if you want a grown-up tie, start acting like a grown-up and we'll see."
"Mom ... pl —," he said.
"Do I have to repeat that for you? Do I?" This was what she always said to end an argument. If he kept fighting, she'd just keep saying it. She'd keep repeating it — not her original point, but that phrase: Do I need to repeat it for you? Do I need to repeat it for you?
Davidek stepped out into the rainstorm. He reached up to his collar, clipped on the tie, faced the school as his mother drove off, and prepared for the worst. The worst, however, was already prepared for him.CHAPTER 2
Lorelei Paskal awoke before her alarm on that same first day of the new school year. Her eyes opened wide in the dim light, and she listened to the rain hammering an irregular rhythm in the silence. She had seven minutes before the buzzer went off — a good omen. Lorelei sprang out of bed.
The past two years had been deeply unhappy ones for the fifteen-year-old. They were supposed to be uncomplicated times, seventh and eighth grade — silly, even. Carefree. Hers had been filled with broken friendships, loneliness, loss, ridicule. ... Lorelei knew it all sounded melodramatic and petty, which was why she never talked about it. Not that she had any friends to confide in anymore, and adults never wanted to hear about the heartaches of children. They tended to doubt there was any such thing.
Across the shadowy room was a bulletin board loaded with pictures of her old classmates from St. Margaret Mary. They were smiling at her, many with funny little phrases written over their heads in word balloons painted with Wite-Out. Most of those girls had quit speaking to her long ago, but Lorelei never took their pictures down.
Lorelei walked barefoot over to the bulletin board without turning on the light. Gray bands of dawn peeked through the blinds of her water-streaked bedroom window, casting bars on the pictures. On the floor beside her dresser was a metal wastebasket with a dent on one side and a painting of a unicorn on the other. Lorelei picked it up and set it beneath the photos, then plucked off a three-year-old school portrait of Allison Ketalwan, who had been her best friend since kindergarten. Lorelei turned the photo in her hands and read the inscription on the back, written with ink that was supposed to smell like peaches: Stay cool, but not 2 cool! Luvs and Hugs Friends4EVER! AK. Lorelei smiled. Then she dropped the photo in the trash.
Excerpted from Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican. Copyright © 2014 Anthony Breznican. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: The Bad Hand,
Part II: Our Turn,
Part III: Hannah,
Part IV: Winter,
Part V: La Verdad y Nada,
Part VI: Prom and Promises,
Part VII: The Other Way Down,
About the Author,
Praise for Brutal Youth,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Brutal Youth describes everyone's nightmares about school. It is engaging and keeps you questioning peoples loyalties and actions. This is incredibly good.
Great book! I will be looking for more from this author.
Fiction: set in a private school, the level of bullying and administrative inaction is unbelievable. The characters read true, the plot moves quickly, and you find yourself caring about the characters. Although targeted at young adult readers, I would recommend it for parents - a must read for anyone whose child is susceptible to bullying. Definitely a candidate for a book club with parents of pre-teens and teens.
What a sad story. All the characters had problems or were devious. You felt sorry for so many of the individuals that it was hard to choose who to root for. Adolescence is a difficult period for most people but the author took it to the nth degree.
It grips you from the first page and does nit let go until the kast page
Coming from a school where I witnessed nothing like this, I found the premise to be a bit far-fetched. Nevertheless, the characters are rarely cut-and-dry, their motives complex, and the consequences of their actions very, very real. Great book.