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The young roughnecks in Lords of the Schoolyard, best friends since eighth grade, smell the roses in their own way: tormenting and manipulating smaller kids, sassing teachers, throwing smoke bombs, and sneaking cigarettes in the school bathroom. They may be outcasts, unable to fit in or to follow rules, but they never take it lying down; instead, they take it out on others.

Stark, brutal, at times darkly humorous, and written in a powerfully pared-down style purged of any ostentation, Hamilton’s story is told from the point of view of one such antisocial bully. The effect of identification with a character so blithely inconsiderate of his own cruelty is exquisitely uncomfortable, even shocking, and captures with unforgettable force the anomie and amoralism of the adolescent mind, as well as the fundamental, sorrowful human innocence that lies beneath it. This harrowing immersion into the inner reality of a little boy who chooses victimization over victimhood casts an all-too-timely light on contemporary society in 2017.

Lords of the Schoolyard is the first novel from Ed Hamilton, author of The Chintz Age and Legends of the Chelsea Hotel.