Published by HarperTeen
Published on October 1st 2011
Genres: Fiction, Friendship, Love & Romance, Paranormal, Realistic FIction, Supernatural, Young Adult
"There’s a reason why Brewster can’t have friends – why he can’t care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can’t be explained. I know, because they're happening to me."
When Brontë starts dating Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins – the guy voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” her twin brother, Tennyson, isn’t surprised. But then strange things begin to occur. Tennyson and Brontë’s scrapes heal unnaturally fast, and cuts disappear before their eyes. What at first seems like their good fortune turns out to be more than they bargained for…much more.
“What’s the point of living if you’re going to hate the world? Guard your heart if you have to, but don’t shut it away.”
I will be stumbling around for words in this review. Because I don’t know what to say about this book. I do apologize if I start rambling incoherently. I’ll give this a shot, though. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Neal Shusterman is one of the most brilliantly imaginative writers in the world. This is the sixth book of his that I’ve read (four of them belonging to one series), and I am once again floored at his ability to come up with magical, inventive premises that catch my attention immediately. So what kind of magic has he come up with here?
Bruiser is at first a story about a family that seems to be slowly disintegrating, but the family completely changes because of one person: Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins. Brewster has the inexplicable ability to take pain from people he cares about. Pain could mean physical pain and tire, as well as emotional trauma and suffering. He’s got a horrible reputation at school, where they don’t at all understand what he is capable of. Only Bronte and Tennyson are close enough to him to know. And therefore, only they understand why he acts the way he does, and why he has to live the lonely, caged-in life that he does.
Well, the characterization in this book is A++++.
Tennyson: He’s an ass. And he’s also the most likable ass I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. Seriously, his sarcastic, witty view of the world is so refreshing, and while he can be a jerk, he really cares about the people who he is close to. He’s quite intelligent, and is able to pick up on subtle things that not everyone notices. I also admire his ability to stand up for what and who he believes in. When he stood up for Brew at Ahab’s? My heart swelled with admiration. He’s also flawed- when he notices Brew is taking pain from him, he knows he should do something about it but can’t. Tennyson is one of my favourite male characters of all time. A few of his many insightful quotes:
“Once in a while our school has half days, and the teachers spend the afternoon ‘in service,’ which I think must be a group therapy for having to deal with us.”
“Then you’d better listen, because me sounding like Bronte is one of the signs of the apocalypse-and if the end of the world is coming, good deeds could earn you Judgment day brownie points.”
“I only remember fighting Ozzy O’Dell once. It was back in second grade. He threw these weird windmill-like punches, which was probably an early sign that the swim team was in his future.”
Bronte: Not quite as standout a character as Tennyson, but still intriguing nonetheless. Bronte, Tennyson’s younger sister (by 15 minutes), reminds me a lot of Clary from TMI. She gets worked up over her passions and desires, and her willpower and determination scares even herself. She is not afraid to be different- not afraid to do something unprecedented. I found her to be a bit more childish than Tennyson, but she was still very insightful and capable of understanding even the most confusing of situations. I loved her banter with her brother: through all the bickering and fighting, there was a special bond there that Shusterman highlighted at many times throughout the book.
Bruiser: One of the most complex people I have ever encountered in YA fiction. His story is very compelling. Brew has been bestowed with a gift that no one wants- the ability to take, or steal, pain from those that he cares about. And this provides him with a couple of limitations:
1. He can’t tell anyone about his condition. People will only figure out ways to use him. And as we find out later on, even people who care about him use him and his ability.
2. He can’t afford to care. He has to force himself to live a life of hate, because once he feels a connection with somebody, he then has to carry around the burden of their pain. This is one of the things that makes his connections to Tennyson and Bronte so special.
3. He doesn’t know how to live for himself. His life has become about healing others, and taking their wounds. So naturally, he chooses saving others before he saving himself.
Bronte means well when she tries to introduce him to the joys of the world and tries to get him to live with an open mind, but when Brew invites people into his heart, he suffers so much. This section of the book, where he opens up and is punished for it, is particularly poignant.
Cody: A carefree, innocent little boy who Shusterman uses to emphasize the wrong in Brew’s family. One of the few people that Brew lets into his heart, Cody is often stuck in the middle of the fight between Brew and Uncle Hoyt. Too cowardly to abuse Brew himself, Uncle Hoyt harms Cody, which in turn harms Brew, and while Cody understands how this process works, he lets Brew take his own pain. And he is too young for us to really get mad at him. He is a smart kid though- when he realizes that Brew is taking all the pain out of Tennyson’s family, he gets mad because he realizes that the family is using him like Uncle Hoyt did.
What particularly moved me was the dynamic between Brew and Tennyson’s family. Everyone hated Uncle Hoyt before for using Brew, but then, once Brew started stealing pain from his new caring family, the siblings began to comprehend how beautiful this pain-free life was- the parents were getting along, and their own lives became easy and full of content. You could see both Tennyson and Bronte really struggling with the morality of the whole situation- Tennyson got it first, and while he realized that his own family was using Brew just like Hoyt had, he couldn’t bring himself to stop it. This dynamic was very powerful.
The ending was… rather rushed and annoyingly open-ended. But let me make myself clear: there really was no perfect way to end this kind of story. This isn’t a book where you realize how it’s going to end as you read. There’s no clear beginning, middle, and end. A story like Brewster’s really has no end. But even though I acknowledge this, I was still a bit annoyed at how the book ended. What happens to Tennyson’s family? What happens next for Brew and his special quality?
Shusterman made a lot of artistic choices regarding the writing. He chose to incorporate four different perspectives into the book: Tennyson, Bronte, Brew, and Cody. And I applaud him for making every single perspective really distinct. Tennyson had a distinguishable snarky, witty tone (THAT I LOVED). Bronte had a slightly more childish voice, and had her own verbal tendencies (thank you very much, hyperboles, etc). Brew’s POV was… odd. It was made up entirely of free verse. That’s right. Poetry. It was composed beautifully, but I question the use of such intricate language. What exactly was the point? Cody, being a young boy, had a voice that was understandably young and subject to grammatical mistakes. I am torn about the use of four different perspectives; it gave us depth; it helped to tell the story from lots of different characters involved in Brew’s life. But I thought the book did get a bit confusing and garbled in all of these different voices. Personally, I would not at all have minded just having Tennyson’s POV; I could read from his perspective all day. But again, like the ending, I don’t think there was a perfect way to handle the writing.
Bruiser is a very intriguing, thought-provoking book. The imaginative premise itself made it impossible to do everything perfectly; there was no perfect way to deal with the ending as well as the writing. But while the book was imperfect in those ways, it was well worth it; Bruiser is an incredibly powerful book that poses a lot of questions about pain, family, and morality. And I find that this is a hallmark of Shusterman’s writing; whatever the book, Shusterman finds a way to provoke thought and reflection from his readers. This is why I respect him as an author, and this is also why you should read this book.
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