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Brutal Youth illustration and excerpt: EW's Anthony Breznican's novel comes out in paperback

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Brutal Youth, the coming-of-age novel following four freshmen at a Draconian Catholic school and their struggles with upperclassmen and bullying, debuted last summer, but as school gets back into session EW is excited to premiere new illustrated scenes from the book.

Written by EW senior writer/resident Star Wars expert, Anthony Breznican, Brutal Youth follows four students, each of them with a different approach to their problems: Peter Davidek wants to avoid trouble, Noah Stein wants to fight back, Hector Greenwill wants to protect himself, and Lorelei Paskal wants to make alliances. Hannah Kraut and Audra Banes are upperclassmen the freshmen are alternatively trying to flee and befriend.

Check out the illo from artist Cassandra Siemon (and an excerpt) from Brutal Youth, now available in paperback.

This scene follows four freshmen at St. Michael the Archangel, where seniors have turned the school’s annual hazing ritual into something even more twisted and sadistic.

The upperclasman the newcomers fear the most is the mysterious Hannah Kraut. She believes its better to be an outcast than to be embraced by the cruel power players at the school and has promised to turn one of the freshmen into her replacement – the school pariah.

Peter Davidek just wants to avoid trouble. His friend Noah Stein has been viciously fighting back, but making countless new enemies. Hector Greenwill, a heavyset boy who is the school’s only black student, knows he’s vulnerable on multiple fronts, and Lorelei Pascal has been trying to forge alliances with friendly older students. But a false rumor about her flirting with one such protector’s boyfriend has put her back in danger …

It’s becoming harder than ever for the four friends to hang together.

Davidek figured if he found Hannah Kraut first, she wouldn’t find him. If he could ID her, he could avoid her. If he knew where she went for lunch, which hallway her locker was in, and when her classes were, he could theoretically stay out of her way. And if she didn’t know him, she wouldn’t pick him. But after three days scanning the halls, he never laid eyes on her once.

On the bookshelves in the library, Davidek, Green, and Stein found a yearbook from the previous year with a grainy, black-and-white photo of Hannah Kraut. There was nothing the three freshmen could gather from her face, however. It had been scratched away to the rough, white paper beneath.

Davidek found three other copies of the yearbook on the shelf. Each one had her face scraped away, and they found other listings of her name throughout the books. Not one image remained intact. They found the yearbooks from her freshmen and sophomore years, too, but already knew what they’d find. Every photo of her had its face scratched away.

“I know everybody hates her, but who would do this?” Davidek asked.

Green got the answer a few days later, after asking his senior friends from the stairwell gang. “She did it,” Green said, showing them a copy of one of the junior yearbooks. “When they came in, they all passed each other’s books around, getting everyone to sign them. This is what Hannah did to each one.” Just like in the others, Hannah Kraut’s face was scratched off in every photo. Underneath her defaced portrait, she had written in bold, black marker: YOU COULDN’T REMEMBER ME IF YOU TRIED.

The whole situation had Lorelei panicking. “Audra, Audra—!” Lorelei said, running up behind the student council president in the crowded hallway. Audra adjusted her black-rimmed glasses as if the girl before her were out of focus. “Yesss . . . ?” she said, like air hissing from a tire.

Lorelei could hardly speak. Her lips worked, and her eyes pooled as she struggled to get the words out. “It’s been a week, and I’ve been very patient, but I just saw the Brother–Sister sign-up sheet, and . . .”

“And . . . ?” Audra said, crossing her arms over her books.

“It says you signed up for Justin Teemo. Justin Teemo?”

Audra shrugged. “Michael— my boyfriend— told me he was a nice kid. We’re going to have the other girls dress up in poodle skirts and sing ‘My Guy’ to him onstage.”

“You said you’d pick me,” Lorelei whispered, unable to hold back the tears dripping down her cheeks. “Please. Please change it back . . . Or could you make someone else pick me?”

Audra rolled her eyes as she walked away. “I know who I hope picks you.”

Later, Davidek found Lorelei hugging Stein in an empty stairwell. They stood below the stained glass window of St. Francis of Assisi holding a bird on his extended finger and keeping the peace between the sheep and rabbits and ducks and wolves. Davidek couldn’t see Lorelei’s face. It was pressed into Stein’s shoulder.

Lorelei’s body squirmed against Stein’s arms. She was murmuring, “Your fault . . . your fault . . . ,” and gripping him in something that looked less like an embrace and more like an effort to inflict pain. When she finally pulled away, the skin beneath her eyes was swollen and purple and wet.

“They hate me because of you,” she said. “I knew it! I warned you!”

Stein was trying to find out who? What? How did this happen? But Lorelei wasn’t interested in him understanding. As he tried to pull her close again, she snapped. “Keep the hell away from me.”

Stein’s face was a mask of shock and sorrow. Davidek couldn’t look at it, and he backed up the steps without either of them noticing him.

The next morning, Stein found Davidek beside his locker, looking at a photo of the four friends together. When had it been taken? A lifetime ago – when the year had seemed full of promise, and each new friendship had felt unbreakable. Word was now spreading all through the school that Lorelei’s connection with Stein had poisoned her relationship with Audra.

“You’ve been a good friend to me, all this time. Never ditched me even when it would have made you a local hero,” Stein told Davidek, his voice drained of that usual dangerous enthusiasm.

Davidek tried to make a joke. “I keep you around because you make me look like the nice one.”

Stein didn’t laugh. “You are the nice one. You’ve got friends. You’ve got Green telling you stuff, and the sophomores coaching you, trying to protect you. You even have friends among the seniors … that redhead girl, what’s-her-name – Claudia? Why don’t you go talk to her? Ask her to pick you for her Little Brother.”

“The truth is, I don’t know her that well,” Davidek said.

“Well get to know her. I don’t want you to worry about who I end up with, because I honestly don’t care,” Stein said. “We’re brothers no matter what.”

Brothers.

“Thanks, Stein,” Davidek said. He wanted to say more, but he just said, “Thanks, Stein,” again.