Book Review: BROTHERHOOD
Thanks to Amulet Books/ABRAMS Kids for a copy of Brotherhood in exchange for an honest review.
A strange and dark college story about a mysterious boarding school, a fraternity that must remain in the shadows, and an ancient evil that could tear everything apart.
In the fall of 1991, Zooey Orson transferred to Blackfriars School for Boys in hopes of a fresh start following a scandal at his last school. However, he quickly learns that he is not the only student keeping a secret. Before he knows it, he’s stumbled upon a group of boys who all share the same secret, one they can only openly express in the safety of the vicious circle’s underground gatherings – the Secret Student Club. homosexuals for decades.
But when the boys unwittingly stumble upon the Headmaster’s copy of a dark occult text, they unleash an eldritch secret so terrible it threatens to consume them all.
A bizarre paranormal story set during the still-raging AIDS crisis, Brotherhood examines a not-so-distant time when a secret brotherhood lurked in the shadows. What would Zooey and her friends do to protect their newfound family? — From the publisher
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The problem with kitchen sink cookies
I want to get my reviews from Fraternity away first. Andy Mientus’ book does too much. And unfortunately, some efforts fail, as often happens when we do too much. Here is an Instagram post that Mientus shared to give you an idea:
I really believe that was an oversight – anti-Semitism so often falls through the cracks, and we need to do better. The thing is, this isn’t the only example of this kind of…blip…in Fraternity. (Without speaking about Fraternitythe coded Jewish character gets the main stick shortcut).
In his author’s note at the beginning of the book, Mientus mentions that he included overt and covert racism to be genuine as part of Fraternity. Fair enough. I just wonder if it was necessary. Do we need black trauma if we don’t have black joy? Do we need black trauma written by a non-black person?
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Similarly, a white passing character is “revealed” to be half-Korean. There’s a fascinating conversation about it, and then that storyline is just… abandoned. Also… the only black character disappears from the book for about 100 pages only to reappear in a dire situation.
These aren’t my only criticisms, but I’ll leave it at that, because, shockingly, I’m not trying to dissuade you from reading Fraternity.
All this to say that even if, as you will see, there is much to love Fraternity, this shows how important the editing, beta and sensitivity reading process is. And emphasizes that these processes are not infallible. I have a lot to think about when it comes to my own writing.
“Hiss, damn hiss”
Andy Mientus has a unique writing style. I haven’t read his other books, so I don’t know if this style is unique to Fraternity, but it worked for me. There’s a lot of repetition of language to the point that it almost becomes poetic, and being the language nerd that I am, I was in heaven. One of those perfect lines that repeats and comes back is “Hiss, hiss b****” – a reference to using the venom of your words, not your fists.
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There is also something unbalanced Fraternity. Haven’t we all bullied at some point wished we could get revenge on an occult level against our bullies? Sure, revenge is not the sweet version we expect it to be. There are dark consequences. And for everything, I’m not sure how I feel Fraternity‘s “twist”, I can say that I was surprised. And, y’all, this jaded millennial is enjoying a fictional surprise, it is a rare pleasure.
I don’t often discuss who the creators are when reviewing. On the one hand, they don’t owe us their identity, and on the other hand, writing often leads people to discover their identity. For review purposes, I try to only mention it when there’s a lot of talk or someone seems really out of their way. Here, I mean just the opposite.
Andy Mientus is openly bisexual, and I don’t know his personal history — well, whatever. But the bisexual story in Fraternity is so raw and honest. Mientus and I are the same age, and I feel echoes of my own story, of my own closet, in the one he created for this character.
Reading it was both painful and cathartic. We don’t have enough bisexual male voices. I’m glad Mientus is sharing his.
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Should you read it?
Yes. If for nothing other than the bisexual storyline. There are problems with Fraternity that I don’t want to minimize. But it seems like Mientus took the criticism to heart, and I hope other writers do too.
Ultimately, it was a flawed revenge fantasy that taught me (finally) what “Dark Academia” means.
Fraternity releases September 20, 2022. Pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore or library. 📚🏫🩸
Content warnings: (sexual) child abuse, body horror, racism, homophobia, biphobia, death of a parent, alcohol and cannabis use. Note: There’s the use of outdated language, like how trans people are referred to and the heavy use of the slur f, but it’s more or less appropriate for the times.
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