A Tale of Love, Pain, and Sacrifice
What if you had the power to take away people’s pain and absorb it as your own? What if someone else could remove all your physical and emotional pain? Would you let them? What if you could live free of pain for the rest of your life?
It’s not often in which I come across a book that actually impacts me, a book that I’m unable to put down and even afterwards, I find myself overcome with emotion for days on end. Such a book that I had the privilege of reading is called Bruiser, a beautiful tale spun by the masterful storyteller Neal Shushterman. I came across it by complete chance after exploring the bookcases of my high school library in search of a new read and noticing its acqua-colored spine protruding from the shelves. This dark and twisting yet emotionally gripping story is chronicled from four characters’ perspectives: Tennyson, the athletic high school jock who is blinded by his arrogance; his twin sister, Brontë, who lets her sensitivity and romantic character influence her decisions; Bruiser, the loner at school whose large size and intimidating demeanor have led to his reputation as the school bully, a circle of rumors to constantly surround him, and a “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” vote by his peers; and finally his younger brother, Cody, who lives freely in a world of innocence. When Brontë decides to spend time with Bruiser and eventually date him, much to the school’s shock and Tennyson’s fury, she and Tennyson begin to learn more and more about Bruiser, ultimately shattering their preconceived judgments of him in ways that will haunt them. After discovering Bruiser’s horrifying secret and why he is known as “Bruiser” rather than his real name, Tennyson and Brontë, along with Bruiser himself and Cody, undergo a profound journey that none of them anticipated, one that will change the course of their lives forever.
This heartwarming yet thought-provoking book explores love, courage, pain, and trust. It is a journey of change, self-awareness, and above all self-sacrifice, in which the characters ponder questions about sacrifice and friendship. Shushterman forces his readers to think deeply about life, relationships, and how far one would be willing to go for love. What I found fascinating was how the characters’ distinct narrations effectively work together to create a believable, powerfully deep tale that make the characters come alive: Tennyson’s humorous and cocky attitude that changes as he transforms from cruel to caring, Brontë’s insistence that Bruiser is misunderstood and her naive desire to love and protect him that is tested by the harsh realities of life, and Cody’s exuberant words that offer a nostalgic reminder to the readers of their long-lost childhood innocence. But the ultimate power lies in Bruiser’s perspective, narrated in the form of free verse. The use of poetry adds a unique voice to the story, an artistic retelling of the world’s cruelties through a broken teenager’s lens. The poetry causes his sufferings and his attempts to comprehend why people treat each other the way they do to be incredibly relatable. It somehow makes the impossible seem believable.
Bruiser seems like a simple story of high school drama in the beginning, yet it almost immediately darkens and develops into so much more. It is a tale of what it means to have hope in a world that requires us to be constantly selfless. It is a story about the will to love, to break our boundaries and let love in, to learn what it means to love selflessly and to do what is right despite the consequences. The book also explores other issues - alcohol, divorce, and so many family and social issues that affect people, especially children, on a daily basis. Bruiser is painful to read at times yet upon finishing it, you will be left overcome with emotion and a rethinking of your entire life. While it will undeniably leave a bruise on your heart, it will be a marking of self-awareness, rediscovery, and a desire to reevaluate the world in a way that you’ll want to preserve forever.
Written by Sarah S.
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.