Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bruiser

I saw a couple of reviews for Bruiser by Neal Shusterman last year.  While not the type of story I normally gravitate toward, I was intrigued and added it to my TBR list.  I confess I was not too excited about starting it after bringing it home from the library.  On Tuesday, about 10 minutes before I got my son up from his nap, I decided to read the first chapter to see if I would be anymore excited about delving in.  I didn't want to stop reading and began to look forward to kiddie bedtime so I could read.  (I admit it, the kids were in bed a little earlier than normal that night).
Bruiser is the story of four individuals, two sets of siblings, and how their lives become permanently intertwined by the knowledge of a strange and mysterious secret. Tennyson and Bronte are twins, children of literature professor parents whose marriage is in crisis.  When Bronte decides to date Brewster "Bruiser" Rawlins, Tennyson is not happy about it.  He is used to his sister taking in strays but the kid voted "Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty" is more than he can stand for.  Bronte refuses to back off.  She knows that Brewster is not like everyone says, but her and Tennyson both soon discover there is a reason he is a loner and has no friends.  Caring about people is dangerous for Brewster.  It is, in fact, painful.  Often it is all he can do to endure his love for his reckless younger brother Cody.  As all four of their lives become increasingly intertwined they learn some important lessons about love, friendship, family, and sacrifice.

The book is contemporary realistic fiction with a dash of the strange and unknown.  Brewster's secret is different and strange.  The paranormal label doesn't fit and neither does a straight fantasy label fit it.  Sci-Fi doesn't work either.  I guess this book is one example of why the label "magical realism" was invented.

The story here is told by the four main characters.  The first narrator is Tennyson and I loved his voice.  This is what immediately  pulled me into the story and did not make me happy about performing my parental duties for the rest of the night.  He is the snarky lazy type and we know what a sucker I am for those.  I very much enjoyed Tennyson's character arc through the entire story.  How he goes from bully and snob to ally to friend and then becomes a victim of his own selfishness and how he overcomes it in the end, this is good reading.  Loved every bit of him.  Bronte was more difficult for me to enjoy because I felt she was incredibly stupid on a lot of fronts.  Also incredibly self absorbed, and not in the painful conflicted way of her brother, but in an oblivious-want -to-smack-her way.  Which is a realistic portrayal of a selfish person,but it was hard for me to like her.  Cody's narration was surprisingly enjoyable.  He sound genuinely eight years old in his sections.  This is difficult and many authors fail at authentically voicing so young a narrator.  It is easy to love Cody, who adores his brother and becomes quite a little hero by the time all is said and done.  Brewster's sections were difficult for me to sink into, partly because they were written in the form of modern poetry, and partly because he is difficult to relate to.  I was frustrated with him not just explaining things to Bronte and for being a bit of a door mat.  However, I can understand how it could be confusion being him and making the choices he has to make given what he can do.

The four narratives combine to tell a gripping story.  I was enthralled from beginning to end, anxious to see how it could all possibly end.  I only had a small quibble with the way story resolved.  there is one element at the end I found to be cheesy and sentimental.  This aside I like that the book ended with some uncertainty as to how things would turn out.

Bruiser is an interesting study in relationships, the motivations behind them, and how easy it sometimes is to unknowingly use people for our own selfish ends.

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