Courtney's Reviews > Brutal

Brutal by Michael Harmon
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May 02, 2011

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bookshelves: bullying, realistic-fiction, teen-fiction
Read in May, 2011

Ok, the cover of the paperback edition has a blurb on the cover that makes it sound like the book is simply a case of bully vs. protagonist. Thing is, it's not really about the bully at all. Sure Colby's a complete jerk and definitely the catalyst for action, but the book is really about about fighting the establishment that allows bullying to take place. You see, Poe Holly has just moved to a small, upscale winery town on the California coast. She's been living in LA most of her life, singing in a punk band and generally being a pain in her mother's derriere. Now, living with her dad for the first time ever, she's not really sure about that, either. She meets a couple of the other notorious outcasts from school and forges an immediate bond with them as well as a healthy dislike for any and all elements of her new high school's regime. She spends a lot of time putting up a stink about rules that come across as unfair and rattles the cages of the faculty at Bender's High. Then she witnesses a severe beating, only to find it being covered up and glossed over by all authority figures. She's pissed. And she's going to do something about it.
So, Poe was an interesting enough character. She's a classic angst-filled teen, imbued with a heightened sense of justice. You love her and you hate her. Sometimes I was cheering for her; others, I was severely annoyed (particularly when it comes to her and her dad). But that's cool, her complexity is one of the few things keeping this book afloat. The target of the bullies, Velveeta and Poe's new bf, Theo are two of the other things working in favor of this novel. They're hilarious and multi-dimensional as well. The rest of the characters, however, are pretty much stock characters. The bully is the school's football star and his parents are well-connected. While the father character seems like a pretty nice guy, he constantly comes off as a therapist. Granted, he's a guidance counselor, but still...Absent mom is, well, absent. At least until the too-tidy ending. This book is more a vehicle for a message about questioning assumptions, rules and habits than a satisfying novel. The plot and writing are just a bit too messy and the conclusion far too predictable for this to have the impact that it could have.
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message 1: by Kalkedan (new)

Kalkedan Bezabih I completely agree.You practically took the words right out of my mouth. I believe the theme of the book is to stop bullying at its source and core, instead of trying to help the kids being bullied.
I was also annoyed with Poe when she spoke with her dad about certain things, like calling him a "lamp" and saying that he was weak. There was some sense in what she was saying, but I think she generally let her anger get the best of her and lashed out at the people closest to her. She used her dad as a punching bag for all of the hurt inside of her.
The first time she argued over the case of the P.E uniforms, I thought she was over-reacting and I didn't really understand the message she was trying to send. Later in the book, however, she keeps up the fight and I begin to understand the deeper message underlying her actions. I love her rebellious and revolutionary character, and her unfailing willingness to speak her mind. I agree that her complexity keeps the book interesting. I think it also shows that most people are not "black-and-white" and easy to understand, especially teenagers. I also agree that the plot is messy, and way too predictable. I think the author could have stretched his imagination further.The end was extremely disappointing to me.Theo recording Colby's confession was too simple. All in all, a good book with a great message, but the craft could use some work.

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