Welcome to a high school that Holden Caulfield, for all his angst, would not recognize.
In his debut novel, Brillon describes all the types lurking in the hallways of a high school: the superannuated and sclerotic, the burnout, the sacrificial newbie, the schlub of a security guard, the bullies, the jocks, the nerds, and the goths. They are all here. The protagonist is freshman Bayard Bitter (yes, Bitter), who lives with his disabled father. Bayard is a good kid even if he is always getting into fights to defend someone else. But since he inevitably throws the first punch, he gets blamed. After he clashes with Kyle Merchant, a fellow student, an English teacher named Mr. D. tells Bayard: “I realize that high-school can generally be an awful place. It’s filled with gossip and meanness and great, great stupidity. But you know what?...Eventually it ends.” Often Bayard is defending his nerdy middle school friend Abbott Bishop. Then there are the girls. Bayard is smitten with Lee Milner, from middle school, who has grown up to be a confused tease and a taunt. At one point, he spies Sarah, a casual friend, canoodling with Mr. D. She will later seek Bayard’s help. Finally, he falls in with Nona, a goth girl who cannot hide her sadness beneath her cynicism. (Some of the best scenes transpire in the goth underworld.) The book’s intense climax, ripped from the headlines, involves the forever bullied Abbott. While this is his first book, Brillon, a high school English teacher, has obviously been practicing his craft for quite some time. The dialogue rings true, and the sense of high school anguish is all-pervasive. And in the midst of all this palpable misery, it is easy to lose sight of a simple fact: Bayard, just a normal kid, still anchors all the craziness that swirls around him. He is more of a hero than he knows. There is a little of Holden Caulfield in Bayard.
A perceptive novel with a strong teenage hero by a promising new novelist.