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Interview Anthony Breznican

Brutal Youth
by Anthony BreznicanPublisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: June 2nd 2015
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller, Drama, Literary Fiction, Coming of Age, Psychology, Mystery


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.

The title of the novel is very direct “Brutal Youth.” How do you think that will impact this novel in the youth of today?

The title comes from an Elvis Costello song called “Favourite Hour,” which includes the line, “Now there’s a tragic waste of brutal youth …” I love it because I think it sums up all the intense emotion and drama of that age. We all look back and wonder why we so overwhelmed as kids, but we forget how critical that time is for shaping who we become. That's the age where we learn to love, learn to sacrifice, learn to stand for something bigger than ourselves … We don't always win, but there is victory in just trying to do the right thing. I don't think that changes, no matter when you grow up.

In Spain, day in and day out, there are many cases in schools of bullies and zealots. What would you say to these people who are responsible to annoy new or different people?

I think we need to not only offer care and support to those who are bullied, but also extend some mercy to the bullies. They should not be coddled, and their actions should not be minimized, but we should not demonize them either — not at a young age when it is still possible for them to change. Teachers and parents should try to address the root cause of bullying: what is it that is making this child so vicious? What pain are they suffering? What insecurities are making them into monsters? Then you not only spare the victims of bullying, but perhaps save the bully as well.

Is Saint Michael's real? How did you get the idea of this place? Where do we find this place?

The novel is set in my hometown outside of Pittsburgh, and I did attend a real school in that area that had a hazing and bullying problem during my early years. Things at this school were out of control, but over the years it began to improve. I have never forgotten how frightening it was coming in as a freshman, knowing that embarrassment and intimidation were sanctioned "fun and games." Everything that happens in the book is based on something from real life. The news is full of many true-life stories even today of kids who went to extreme measures because a school let bullying get out of control. Whole countries can go mad sometimes, certainly a school can do the same.

How does it feel to be supported by Stephen King? If I could add a character in a novel by Stephen King to yours who would it be?

It's a dream come true. He is an idol of mine, and I admire not only his writing but his generosity with new writers. I was honored that he was even willing to read the book, but the fact that he liked it enough to offer supportive words on the cover filled me with a gratitude I have difficulty expressing. Imagine being a guy playing guitar on the corner and Bob Dylan walks by, listens, and places a few dollars in your hat. 

-How would you describe your novel? (with an adjective, a feeling and a song)

Brutal Youth is a twisted coming-of-age story about friendship, survival, sacrifice — and the humiliation of clip-on ties. As for your three listed items, I'd say … 

Adjective: Demented. 
Feeling: Bittersweet
Song: Bruce Springsteen's "Sinaloa Cowboys." (The story isn't the same, but the emotion is.)

Would you like to add something else to the interview or say something to the fans of the web?

I'm just grateful for your interest in the novel, Maria! Thank you for taking the time to showcase Brutal Youth and share it with your many readers. I suppose the only other thing to add is some good news: I recently learned Brutal Youth will be published in Spanish by Kailas Editorial. If you see it in a store over there, snap a picture for me!

Best wishes,

Anthony Breznican

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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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