Bruiser is a sharp, potent guzzle of a book. It's not a sweeping epic kind of story like the Skinjacker Trilogy books. Instead, Bruiser focuses intensely on three characters, their interactions, conversations, and growth. The plot moves forward tentatively, in short puffs and peaks, until the achingly beautiful climax squeezes and twists the reader's heart like a soaked sponge. Sixteen year-old Tennyson is not happy when his twin sister Bronte starts dating Brewster Rawlins, a hulking loner known at school as the Bruiser. Bronte has a soft heart for stray dogs, and at first she thinks of Brewster as just that-- a stray, ripe for rehabilitation. But the twins find that there is much more to this painfully shy and reclusive boy than meets the eye. Brewster lives with a horrible secret, an unexplainable power that causes him to absorb any pain experienced by the people he loves. As Brewster comes to love Bronte and befriend Tennyson, the twins find that their cuts and bruises suddenly disappear and show up on Brewster's body. But it's not only the physical pain that Brewster takes from them; he takes their anger, hurt, and sadness, too. And he's been doing so all his life, subsuming the painful abuse suffered by his little brother Cody at the hands of their alcoholic uncle. Bruiser is narrated in alternating chapters by Tennyson, Bronte, Cody, and Brewster. Each voice is distinct and believable, particularly Brewster's. His chapters, told in free verse, are poetic, tragic, and deeply introspective. And Tennyson evolves beautifully from an arrogant jock and bully to a compassionate young man. At the heart of the book are the themes of sacrifice and love: Would you sacrifice your own happiness if it meant that those you love would feel no pain? Is Brewster's power to take away the pain from those he loves a gift or a curse? And how can a person be happy knowing that someone he or she loves must feel so much pain? Bruiser is an intense, almost violently emotional experience, and Shusterman knows just where to stick the knife. I can recall few books where I cared so deeply about such an initially unreachable character. The last chapters are at once torturous and touching, anguished and hopeful. This book will stay with you long after you've read the final page. 330 pages Ages 14 and up
Recommended by Stacy Nockowitz, Middle School Librarian.
Editor's Note: A CHILD CALLED "IT" by Dave Pelzer is a non-fiction book that pairs well with this title....suggested by Naomi Bates
BRUISER by Neal Shusterman, Trailer by Misha Navarro