Sunday, July 7, 2013

Brutal - Michael Harmon


Goodreads:  With her martyr-doctor mother gone to save lives in some South American country, Poe Holly suddenly finds herself on the suburban doorstep of the father she never knew, who also happens to be a counselor at her new high school. She misses Los Angeles. She misses the guys in her punk band. Weirdly, she even misses the shouting matches she used to have with her mom.

But Poe manages to find a few friends: Theo, the cute guy in the anarchy T-shirt, and Velveeta, her oddly likeable neighbor—and a born victim who’s the butt of every prank at Benders High. But when the pranks turn deadly at the hands of invincible football star Colby Morris, Poe knows she’s got to fix the system and take down the hero.

With insightfulness, spot-on dialogue, and a swiftly paced plot, Michael Harmon tells the story of a displaced girl grappling with a truly dangerous bully.


I think books like these are important to keep awareness and dialogue about bullying open.  That being said, while I think the issues in the book are important, the execution wasn't there.  Poe, the protagonist, isn't always the most likeable person.  She's extremely confrontational, and in many ways ends up being a bully herself, although she tends to point this towards figures of authority and power (i.e., parental figures, teachers, and "popular" kids).  Poe brings up many valid points about bullying.  Most conversations about bullies don't involve dealing  the bullies themselves (at least in my experience) - they instead tell the victims how to try and avoid the situation.  I agree with Poe that this doesn't solve the problem and often makes the victims feel like it is their fault.  I thought her views on teachers and school rules promoting continued differences in popularity were very interesting.  I had never thought of the role of adults in school bullying, and in some cases I can understand her point (although as a potential school teacher I disagreed in many cases and find her examples out of the norm).  Despite her many valid points, I thought her solutions were too extreme (and the other characters don't support Poe's solutions and also point out Poe's tendency to bully, so I am in no way suggesting that these views are what the book is promoting).  After all this however, no potential solution to bullying was ever posed!  It's the point of the whole book!  Or at least that's what I thought the point was...

I did like that in her own way, Poe is a bully, but of course doesn't think of herself that way.  It also shows the popular girl..Anna maybe?  I can't remember her name.  There's a scene where Anna? gives a note saying she's interested in Velveeta (the kid who gets the brunt of bullying), or that she wants to meet him.  Instead he gets beaten up by a couple kids off the football team.  While Anna? had no idea that was what was going to happen, she didn't see what she did as wrong (at first).  I think it's important to show that bullies don't see themselves as villains.  They're everyday people, and they don't see what they are doing as hurtful or wrong (or at least not most people and not always).  After all, Poe is a bully at times, and she's the main character (hero) of the story!

There were a couple of inconsistencies throughout the story that really bothered me.  For example, it's implied that Velveeta fights back against the bullies by unconventional means, but every scene we deal with involving Velveeta show him as being helpless.  He's described by the adults as manipulative and unsafe, but again there are no examples of him acting as either.  It's like Harmon tried to make him a more complex character instead of just quirky, but the sinister aspect really doesn't fit (and is never more than mentioned).  And I REALLY didn't understand the ending.  I can't really say anything without spoiling, but everything wraps up really neatly and it just feels really, really weird.  I also thought it was really weird that the book really centers around Poe's parental issues, and while she works on things with her dad and that is an active and growing process, her relationship with her mother is really toxic, and there's not a lot of resolution there.  Or rather process of resolution.

I think the biggest reason this book didn't speak to me is Poe.  I just really didn't like her character.  She's overly confrontational and is one of those people who chooses to hate things solely because everyone else likes them.  She fights the system for no other reason than  simply fight the system.  She thinks she is superior because of this, and treats everyone else like they are idiots.  She likes to pick fights - and not GOOD fights, any fights really.  She likes to prove herself right, and it is done in such a negative way!  When she and the Theo meet and they have their first conversation I thought it was the most pretentious thing I've had to sit through, and I've got a lot of those under my belt.  I don't know how to describe how and why these things bothered me so much, but they really did.  It's one thing to believe something and fight for it, and another to just go out of your way to destroy what everyone else believes in, just because they believe in it.  Sorry...I've lost all cohesive thought ability.

Everything To Do With Books sums up my feelings on the book so, so well:  It [Brutal as a book dealing with bullying issues] was realistic even if Poe wasn't.

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