At first, I had no intention of reading Bruiser by Neal Shusterman. Let’s face it; the cover is the same boring, generic close up picture of a face that pops up more and more often on teen books. Then I read the back of it. The hint of a fantasy element intrigued me. And then I read the book itself and it surprised me again because it so wasn’t what I expected.
But first a summary:
Everyone at school stays away from fifteen year-old Brewster and he stays away from them. Because of his size and standoffish nature, he’s thought to be dangerous (hence the nickname Bruiser) so everyone is surprised when he starts dating Brontë, twin sister of jock Tennyson. And yes, they are names after the authors; their parents are literature professors. At first, Tennyson is seriously opposed to their relationship but as he learns more about Brewster and his home life (he totally stalked him for awhile) he starts to respect Brewster and to develop a very reluctant friendship with him. He also begins to figure out Bruiser’s secret. Bruiser takes on, often involuntarily, the pain and injuries of people he cares about when he is around them. The more he cares about them the quicker it happens and so until the twins came along, he didn’t let himself get close to anyone but his younger brother, who takes unnecessary risks because he never his has to feel pain, and his uncle, who’s guilt over passing on his pain has made him an angry, abusive alcoholic. As Bronte and Tennyson draw Brewster out of his shell and help him make more friends, he’s hard pressed to decide whether his life is getting better or worse and things soon come to a head.
This book is written in four distinct voices: Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster, and Brewster’s brother Cody. Each adds unique background and perspective and is written in a different style. It took me a bit to realize this because it was subtle at first but then I had an “What?” moment where I noticed that Bronte’s parts were written in past tense instead of present tense like Tennyson’s (which made me really happy as I’m not a fan of first person present tense). Cody’s style was first person past tense as well but told in a very disjointed way that jumps from one thought to another. Brewster’s is really obvious though as it’s all verse. I had mixed feelings about this. I know some people really like verse novels. I am not one of these people. I find it too angsty and it doesn’t flow nicely for me. In this case, though, it served its purpose well. The author really showed Brewster’s inner turmoil well and gave a glimpse at how his past is affecting his present.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this book. The problems of both families are way more realistic and sad than I like in a story. I’m very much an escapist reader. So, near the beginning, when I was not reading this book I kind of avoided it. But at the same time, when I was reading it, I had trouble putting it down. By the time I finished, I had decided that I liked it although I’m still unsure about what happened at the end. I’m choosing to interpret it the way I want so that I can be satisfied with it.
Will Bruiser win the Senior Division of YRCA? Hard to say.
What I’m reading now: Storm by Brigid Kemmerer.