Review: Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

Title: Bruiser
Author: Neal Shusterman
Series: Standalone
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi

"There’s a reason why Brewster can’t have friends – why he can’t care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can’t be explained. I know, because they're happening to me."

When Brontë starts dating Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins – the guy voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” her twin brother, Tennyson, isn’t surprised. But then strange things begin to occur. Tennyson and Brontë’s scrapes heal unnaturally fast, and cuts disappear before their eyes. What at first seems like their good fortune turns out to be more than they bargained for…much more.

Everyone feels pain, be it mentally or physically, and most people have wished at least once that they could somehow take the pain of a loved one for themselves. However, in his brilliantly written and heart-wrenching novel Bruiser, acclaimed young adult author examines how the pain and vulnerabilities we endure affect the people around us, especially our friends and family.

Bruiser is a refreshingly innovative story about a remarkably benevolent but misunderstood teenager named Brewster Rawlins. He lives with his abusive uncle and unkempt brother on a decrepit farm and keeps to himself at school, earning him a reputation as an outcast and bully at his high school. Everyone calls him the Bruiser because of his imposing size and mysterious background.

No one knows that Brewster has a unique ability that only affects those he deeply cares about, one that he’s kept a secret for his entire life. That all changes when Brontë Sternberger, a perennial fixer, makes Brewster her next project. When her aggressively protective twin Tennyson objects, it sets off a chain of events that will drastically change the lives of Brewster and everyone that knows him.

This is a book that hinges on suspense and twists with each chapter. Anyone who enjoys an engaging book brimming with emotional intensity needs to read this book.

Character is a major strength of this novel. Each of the characters is rich and complex, at times nearly coming to life off of the page. Tennyson’s frustration, Brontë’s confidence, Brewster’s brother Cody’s childlike wisdom and Brewster’s pain shine through their narration.

Bruiser is a book split into alternating narration between Tennyson, Brontë, Cody and Brewster. And while the voices of each character are masterfully distinct and the wide range of voices creates a multifaceted story, at times four feels like a crowd. Each of the narrators could have had a book to themselves and at times it felt like a character that struggling was ignored because someone else was telling the story at the moment.

Despite the minor weakness of the narration, the book still manages to deliver clear and powerful messages about the struggles we endure and what we will do to save the people we love. At its core, Bruiser is a book about relationships. The love Brewster has for his brother Cody is bittersweetly tender. As twins, Brontë and Tennyson share a simultaneously loving but fraught bond. Some of the best parts of Bruiser are their conversations for Shusterman captures the chemistry between close siblings perfectly.

Shusterman also explores difficult and broken relationships. Shusterman uses the cliché of a strained marriage, but with his talent turns it into a useful tool in the plot. He turns the equally cliché abusive father figure into Brewster’s uncle, who at once is tragically broken while eliciting sympathy from the reader. The characters aren’t always likable in Bruiser, but they all feel authentic as does the weight of their conflicts and concerns.

The novel is also unbelievably well-written, the voice of each character honest and raw. Shusterman artfully applies description and a handful of metaphors to enrich the text. The book flows and is perfectly paced. Readers will be left breathless at the end, feeling that they have concluded a journey that was timed just right.

Lovers of classic literature will love this book. Brontë and Tennyson were named by literature professors, who coincidentally named their confident, feisty and loving daughter after the authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and named their son after the emotionally charged Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson. The titles of the chapters also craftily reflect Bruiser’s literariness. They are each a vocabulary word, a “power word”, that is used somewhere in the chapter.

Brewster’s narration is written in the style of the Beatnik poets, an effective device to show his deep connection to the intense emotion of writers like Ginsberg, so effective that readers unfamiliar with their work will still be able to appreciate these stylistic emulations of great poetry.

Overall, Bruiser is an overwhelmingly intense read suitable for everyone young and old, female or male alike. Bruiser is a book that explores the universal qualities of human suffering, with just enough of the magically impossible to wonder if perhaps we all have just a bit of Brewster’s gift in each of us. 


  1. With the quick healing and all, my mind went to vampire, but seeing as you didn't mention that, now I'm thinking it might not be the case. Will have to check this out!

  2. It sounds a little heavy for my current reading mood, but if the writing style is as awesome as you say, I'll definitely keep an eye out for it. And it's a standalone, which is nice. It seems like everything these days is part of a duology or trilogy.