Monday, December 6, 2010


Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman, is a YA novel I picked up at the library because the kids and I all loved his previous novel Unwind and had enjoyed The Schwa Was Here and Antsy Does Time. Bruiser goes places the previous novels didn't, though; it almost makes me wonder if Shusterman was anticipating the new sign we've seen sprouting up in YA sections of various bookstores this month--"teen paranormal romance."

The novel alternates between the viewpoint of Tennyson and his twin sister Bronte, whose parents are on the verge of divorce, and Bruiser and his little brother Cody, who live with their uncle. Bronte starts dating Bruiser, and eventually the lives of all four characters get inextricably tangled up.

Shusterman is a good writer, and there are lots of delightful passages, like what Bronte has learned about dating from watching her friends:

"1) From Carly I learned never to go out on a date with the younger brother of the most popular guy in school...because he thinks he has something to prove, and he'll try to prove it on you.
2) From Wendy I learned that playing ditsy and stupid will only get you boys who are stupider than you're pretending to be.
3) From Jennifer I learned to avoid any boy with an ex-girlfriend who hates him with every fiber of her being...because chances are there's a reason she hates him so much, and you may find out the hard way.
4) From Melanie I learned that, while it's true that guys have one thing on their mind most are greatly relieved and easier to deal with if you make it emphatically clear right up front that they're not going to get that one thing in the foreseeable future. Or at least not from you. Once that becomes clear, either they go after some girl who never learned the warning signs, or they stick around."

Bruiser's favorite poem is Alan Ginsburg's Howl, and one of his chapters is written in imitation:

"I saw the weak hearts of my classmates shredded by
conformity, bloated and numb, as they iced the
wounds of acceptance in the primordial gym, hoping
to heal themselves into popularity,

Who have devolved into Play-Doh pumped through a
sleazy suburban press, stamped in identical molds,
all bearing chunks of bleak ice, comet-cold in their

Who look down their surgically set noses at me, the boy
most likely to die by lethal injection with no crime
beyond the refusal to permit their swollen, shredded
cardiac chill to fill my heart as well...."

Bruiser's secret is unbelievable, and luckily it's not the entire point of the novel. Tennyson says, near the end of the novel, that everything that's happened is "because we longed for healing and happiness--as if happiness is a state of being. But it's not. Happiness is a vector. It's movement. Like my own momentum across the pool, joy can only be defined by the speed at which you're moving away from pain."

This is not Shusterman's best, but it's an enjoyable fast read.


FreshHell said...

Teen paranormal romance, huh? Does this mean one of the characters is a ghost? I'm not sure whether I like that idea or hate it. But, that's good dating advice nonetheless.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, it sure is good dating advice! The "paranormal" part means one of the characters is a ghost, vampire, werewolf, or zombie. The section seems to me to consist mostly of Twilight imitators.

FreshHell said...

Ah. Ho hum. I'm surprised this genre hasn't worn itself out already. I hope Bruiser isn't a vampire or a werewolf. It's time to come up with something more original I think.

Jeanne said...

Bruiser is not a vampire or a werewolf. The clue is in his name, and in the passage about pain.

Jenny said...

Okay, well, I am over teen supernatural romance (FOREVER, and I hate Stephenie Meyer for making it impossible for me to contemplate watching The Vampire Diaries which ordinarily I am sure I would love), but I have heard such nice things about Neal Shusterman. And those things that Bronte has learned from her friends are charming. So I will give this a try. :p

Jeanne said...

Jenny, this one has its charming bits. Overall, though, Unwind is his best so far.

Jodie said...

I've heard some about this book and you've made it sound really fun (dating advice, people probably never anticipated giving through their relationships is always oddly funny). I'm going to plump for ummm Bruiser as a golem...not sure that's been done in paranormal yet :)

Jeanne said...

Jodie, an interesting guess, but the golem idea is still wide open!