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Mike Klaassen
The Brute
A tornado rips through their campsite on the prairie. Can he summon help, or will his violent temper betray him? Sixteen-year-old Fortney Curtis is on a campout in the vast Flint Hills of Kansas. A tornado destroys their campsite, disables the adults, and leaves Fort in charge of six younger boys. Distance, storm damage, wildlife, and flooding all obstruct his efforts, but Fort's greatest challenge lies within himself. Can he save the day—or will he let everyone down? The Brute is a young-adult, action-adventure novel for readers of all ages.
Klaassen (Cracks) serves up an engrossing adventure with a flawed teen protagonist. Fortney “Fort” Curtis is the titular “brute,” with a hulking manner and hair-trigger temper. During a boy scout camping trip with his father and several younger boys, Fort’s camp is pulverized by a tornado and he loses his temper in the aftermath, accidentally breaking one of the boys’ arms. Fort is forced to find a way to master his emotions as he treks across dangerous country seeking help for the ruined camp—in the process dealing with the elements and vicious animal attacks, including a harrowing trip across a flooded river.

This young adult novel deftly balances classic man-versus-nature and man-versus-himself literary tropes. Though Fort’s temper makes others fear him, the book portrays him not as a villain but as an unlikely hero searching for peace; he worries others will reject him when they see his exasperation and anger. Over the course of the story, Fort's desperate need to protect the others drives him to develop self-control amid an array of dangers emphasizing the indifferent brutality of nature.

Klaassen provides just enough detail to turn characters like Fort's twin brothers (Tommy and Timmy) and Billy, the young boy whose arm he broke, into fully realized people instead of just plot devices. Though Klaassen does pile on the perils—the final encounter with an aggressive bull is over-the-top—he also keeps the narrative direct and short. This visceral, exciting, and fast-moving adventure with an unusual protagonist illuminates the need to conquer one’s own demons to help others.

Takeaway: Young adult readers who enjoy flawed characters and the outdoors will be swept up in this suspenseful adventure.

Great for fans of: Kate Alice Marshall's I Am Still Alive, Shaun David Hutchinson's Feral Youth.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B