Review | Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

BruiserBrewster, better known by his peers as ‘Bruiser,’ has always been an outcast and recluse. It isn’t until he meets Bronte in the school library, that he starts to connect and open up to someone. Shortly after Bronte and Brewster start dating, odd things start happening to Bronte. Like the sprained ankle she gets, disappears just minutes after she stumbles and hurts it, and then a cut on her hand disappears. Either Bronte has suddenly developed super-human healing powers, or something more mysterious and unexplainable is going on.

Bruiser was one of the more thought provoking books I’ve read recently. I read it for book club and was a little reticent about picking it up. I assumed it was going to be a teen-angst, romance novel, but I was wrong. There was a depth to the story that is often lacking in YA fiction. Shusterman is a fabulous writer. His writing is sophisticated, clean, and tight. The story is told from four different points of view: Brewster, Cody (Brewster’s younger brother), Bronte, and Tennyson (Bronte’s brother).

A lot of Brewster’s chapters are written in free verse poetry and Shusterman does a great job using this format to enhance Brewster’s character. Bronte is a strong female character who is able to work through some of the confusing and troubling things in her life and is eventually always able to find clarity. Tennyson is a protective brother that for the most part makes him a very endearing character, but the conflict he eventually encounters morphs him into someone who is more complex and vulnerable. Cody was probably my least favorite character, but in some ways becomes the strongest and most understanding near the end of the book.

The thing I found most fascinating and thought-provoking from the novel was the idea of pain: the pain each of us have and what we do with it. And what would happen to us if we were protected from feeling any pain or hardship? As an additional, personal layer, I was able to see the way pain was used in the book and apply it metaphorically to Jesus Christ’s Atonement. If you’re not a religious person, please don’t take this as a reason to not read the book, the book is not about religion, I just think that Christians will find an additional depth in the book through Brewster’s character.

With my background as a social worker, it was clear to me that Shusterman is very knowledgeable about some of the themes that are commonly found within the therapeutic field. The book addresses addiction, co-dependency and enmeshment issues, self-deception, the trauma surrounding parents that are divorcing, bullying, and child abuse. Bruiser is an excellent, excellent book. I believe this book could be used as an extremely useful discussion tool with teenagers. It also provided a great discussion for my book group and I think it’s a great book for adults as well as teens.

I’m giving the book 4 and a 1/2 stars rather than 5 because I wished the resolution in the book would have been a little more complete, especially for Brewster’s character. Cody, Bronte, and Tennyson’s characters nearly came full circle, but because of what happens to Brewster near the end of the book, it didn’t really allow them test their resolve. Of all the characters, I think Brewster had the most to learn about how to better take care of himself, and there are glimpses of him doing it, but I wanted to see more. At the end I wondered if there was possibly a sequel. As of now there is not, and the book works well as a stand alone, but it left me wanting a tiny bit more.

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Overall Rating: 4 of 5 stars false1/2

Parent’s guide:

  • Sex: some kissing, references to extramarital affairs
  • Violence: a child is physically abused, teens bullying another teen, a girl slaps a boy and his head hits a locker, two teens get in a fist fight, rough sports play, descriptions of emotional and physical abuse
  • Language: deity, name-calling, some light swear words
  • Adult Themes: Some deep therapeutic themes=addiction, bullying, co-dependency/enmeshment issues, child abuse, divorce

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