Review of Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (quality YA contemporary fantasy)
Bruiser/Brewster can take away the pain and injuries of people he cares about. Literally. He lives with his uncle and brother, isolating himself. But then he starts to get close to Bronte, and her family and finds it harder and harder to isolate himself. But his ability doesn’t just change him; it changes the people who know about it…
Neal Shusterman is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. Unwind and Unwholly were some of the most gripping YA science fiction I’ve read and Everlost is creepy and original. Bruiser is the first standalone Shusterman book I’ve read, and the fantasy/sci-fi elements are more subtle than his other books.
Bruiser is a solid book. As with all of Shusterman’s books the strongest element of Bruiser is the characters. Like Unwind, the story is separated into multiple perspectives, with a first person, present tense voice for each. Some books don’t pull it off, but Shusterman proves some can.
Each of the character voices are distinct and realistic and it’s easy to believe that these people could be real. One of the characters, Bruiser, speaks through poems and while it’s well-done and original, I didn’t enjoy these chapters as much as the ones where the other characters narrate. Its uncanny how accurately Shusterman gets the voice of a little kid right—Cody, Bruiser’s younger brother, sounds like a real kid.
The story/plot is why this book doesn’t get a full five rating. The plot isn’t strong enough. It might be personal, other readers probably see it differently, but I wanted to see more of Bruiser’s/Brewster’s gift, and what it could mean if the government took advantage of it. But Shusterman goes more subtle than that, and smaller, showing how Bruiser’s ability to absorb injury and emotions affects a small family.
The writing is top quality, as usual, and the pacing is fast despite not all that much happening. This isn’t a big novel like some of Shusterman’s other books. It’s set in a small town, with a relatively small cast of characters, and it stays that way. The possibilities of Bruiser’s abilities getting into the wrong hands are touched on, but never developed. And that works for the story, which is more about character and family. I would’ve liked more action and to see the bigger picture, but many readers will likely feel differently.
The story and characters are developed enough that I didn’t mind the lack of action, which also didn’t affect how fast this novel moves. The conclusion is ambiguous, but not a cliff-hanger and despite the questions it leaves it’s still a satisfying ending.
Overall, this is a solid book with solid characters, quality writing, great pace and some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read.