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“They call us brutes,” bemoan a group of 13-year-olds in Dizz Tate’s extraordinary first novel.

The five central characters in BRUTES --- four girls and a boy included in their feminine pursuits --- live in the perpetual sticky summer of Falls Landing, Florida. Indeed, they can be as brutish as their mothers claim --- a particular and pointedly masculine insult lobbed at them when they bully or lash out. But just as often as Leila, Britney, Jody, Hazel, Isabel and Christian are cruel, they are victims of cruelties (often casual) from those in their small and constricting environment. At first it appears that environment grows increasingly dangerous, but Tate is actually revealing that the dangers posed to these children have always existed. Now, however, they are coming to realize them.

"BRUTES (with its gorgeous US edition cover) is a fierce and emotionally realistic tale written with a stunningly unique voice and shimmering elements of surrealism."

To say that they are on the brink of womanhood with its implied knowledge and, to a lesser extent, autonomy is too easy. Tate instead digs into their complex interiority and group attachments, paying attention to their relationships with adults and the way that both class and gendered social expectations impact them. They have begun to look at their mothers with suspicion but are vulnerable to others who hold power over them, especially when promised what they perceive to be power-granting itself --- beauty, fame and attention.

In the run-down apartments where they live, the friends long for an understanding of the life that happens in the new yet unfinished adjacent housing development they spy with binoculars from windows. They sneak over grass and blacktop on bare feet to get as close as they can. The action in BRUTES pivots on the disappearance of a neighborhood girl. One year older than our collective narrators, Sammy is the daughter of a local preacher of renown, and they are fascinated by her --- spying on her as much as they can until she goes missing. There’s also a focus on other teens: the cynical Mia, the dreamy Eddie, and a mysterious young arsonist. The novel is ostensibly about finding Sammy but is really about growing via voyeurism and mimicry and the realization that, as women, they are afforded little protection, individuality or voice.

Nothing --- or maybe everything --- in the summer when the book mostly takes place is mundane. It is a period of time when the group rebels against constraints and each other, and there are constantly shifting allegiances. The disappearance of Sammy, auditions with a local talent agent, and their discovery of and fascination with the arsonist culminate in a series of events that will haunt them into their young adulthood. We briefly meet each of them years later and find out how the summer shaped the adults they become.

BRUTES (with its gorgeous US edition cover) is a fierce and emotionally realistic tale written with a stunningly unique voice and shimmering elements of surrealism. It is the story of a tangle of girls whose identity is collective until it's not. Violence, which is all too often veiled, comes into sharp relief for them as fantasies of theme parks and stardom contrast with the hazards of dreams offered at costs that are too high. The conclusion of this claustrophobic, weird, intense and dread-filled novel is as nightmarish and opaque as the lake in which the kids flail, always too close to drowning.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 10, 2023

by Dizz Tate

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Catapult
  • ISBN-10: 1646221672
  • ISBN-13: 9781646221677