Because of his hulking size and antisocial behavior, Brewster Rawlins, voted “Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty,” has been nicknamed Bruiser by his high school peers in this unique story by Neal Shusterman. When lacrosse star Tennyson Sternberger hears that his twin sister Brontë is going on a date with Brewster, he follows the boy home. He softens, however, after observing Brewster covered in bruises and the possibly abusive uncle who has cared for him and his brother since their mother’s death.

As Tennyson and Brontë befriend Brewster, they begin to notice that their aches and pains disappear quickly, while Brewster develops new injuries at an alarming rate. Alternating points of view reflect each sibling’s discovery of Brewster’s strange healing powers and Brewster’s own constant struggle between wanting friends—and Brontë—and knowing the hurt it will eventually bring him. Sailing through rough lacrosse matches, relationship woes and their parents’ potential divorce with ease, Tennyson and Brontë wonder if their new, less painful lives are fair to Brewster.

In usual Shusterman style, Bruiser is a gripping novel full of exquisite language that explores the boundaries of love, happiness, pain, secrets and responsibility. The author balances these moral dilemmas with dark humor and chapter titles that incorporate “power words” from Tennyson and Brontë’s parents, who work as professors of literature. Only Brewster’s chapters are written in poetic forms, further emphasizing the duality between his inner beauty and the façade he presents to the outside world. The thought-provoking ending will haunt readers as they consider the characters’ futures and wonder what they would do as givers or receivers of enduring pain.

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Check out our interview with Neal Shusterman for Bruiser.

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