The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

Posted March 4, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

The Cruelty

The Cruelty

by Scott Bergstrom

Series: The Cruelty #1
Publisher: Walker Books on March 1, 2014
Genre: Contemporary, Espionage, Thriller
Target Age Group: Young Adult

Rating: ★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

When Gwendolyn Bloom realizes that her father has been kidnapped, she has to take matters into her own hands. She traces him from New York City across the dark underbelly of Europe, taking on a new identity to survive in a world of brutal criminal masterminds. As she slowly leaves behind her schoolgirl self, she realizes that she must learn the terrifying truth about herself. To overcome the cruelty she encounters, she must also embrace it.


I have some mixed feelings about The Cruelty.  Going into the first couple chapters, I liked it.  I really did.  I liked Gwendolyn Bloom in her role at the school, despite the fact that the role was technically still some of the most common YA stereotypes – “orphan” and “outcast” for a couple.  But after the first chapter or two, I became less convinced.  The beginning felt like a different book, a perceived vision of normality in order to slide the book into the YA genre by benefit of the character’s age and the fact that high school is mentioned, when in fact none of the rest of the book follows that line.  It’s disappointing, because there was probably some storytelling potential here and there are definitely not enough spy thrillers in YA… but this isn’t a YA spy thriller.  Not really.  It’s just a thriller.  Barely even spy.

Gwendolyn Bloom is flat as a pancake.  The early days of her character development plateau as the story turns into a run around the world.  Any vague attempts the writer makes to paint her as a relatable, multidimensional character fade away as he focuses on action instead of development.  And you know what?  Fine.  That’s a choice, and many thrillers go with action over development.  Character development isn’t the only victim to this choice – we lose a lot in world building and setting.  The reader has no opportunity to become truly immersed in this book because we barely care about Gwendolyn, and each backdrop looks the same.  Bergstrom could have taken the opportunity to do a bit of research and bring the unique cities to life, but instead, they all feel like silhouettes of New York.  Again, disappointing.

Please keep in mind that I am coming at The Cruelty primarily as a reader of YA, not a thriller reader.  I do read some thrillers, but The Cruelty was marketed as YA first, and I am far more versed in that genre.

Bergstrom’s writing isn’t bad – he has some skill.  The language he used in writing the book was more nuanced and complicated than what I’m accustomed to reading, and I enjoyed that.  That said, it’s another aspect that made The Cruelty seem more like a better read for someone in their twenties or thirties rather than a reader in their teens (the true audience for YA, lest we forget).  There’s an imbalance between dialogue and narration, particularly later in the book.  While again this isn’t uncommon in a thriller, it’s a choice that leads to less immersion.

Generally… I don’t know.  I guess The Cruelty was fine, but it was also forgettable.  There were moments that I deeply disliked.  For example, in Prague Gwendolyn finds herself with Roman, a Yale-graduate son of a gangster king, and a homosexual.  Within 24-hours of meeting him, Roman renounces his sexuality and while the word “gay” is never used in the book, the “f” word was used repeatedly.  Roman’s sexuality was completely unrelated to the story and the whole aside felt almost like the author venting his own bigotries.

There are other small unrealities, although less offensive.  One we hit about chapter five, I’d entirely forgotten that Gwendolyn was seventeen.  She acts more like she’s twenty-five, at least.  Plus there’s the whole Krav Maga training montage that takes her from a complete beginner to a trained expert in three weeks.  Hair growing a couple of inches in less than a week.  The passage of time is unrealistic and the things Gwendolyn accomplishes… if you stop and think about it for just a moment… don’t make sense.  The Cruelty relies on the reader to get swept up in the action and not think about the story beyond that.

I don’t think I would particularly recommend The Cruelty?  It’s not a world-endingly bad book, but it’s not impressive and there are definitely some cringe moments.  As an aside, I guess when this came out Scott Bergstrom did an interview and a bunch of people boycotted the book afterward.  In reviewing the article… I mean?  He comes off as a pretentious prick who thinks too much of himself.  I don’t think that’s enough to boycott a book?  But there are the homophobic tones in the Prague section near the end, and there’s a lot of violence, so those are some good reasons to maybe pass this one by.

OMG I just re-read that article and it mentions that Gwendolyn is Jewish.  She is, it’s mentioned a little in the beginning, and it 100% comes off as a diversity drop and is not good rep, or really any rep.  So yeah.  Don’t be fooled.

Also.  98% of all the women in this book are prostitutes. … Okay, I’m done.

Ratings Breakdown

Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★
Writing: ★★★
Pacing: ★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★ 1/2


The Cruelty Will Be Donated

The Cruelty is not actually the type of book I would have normally picked up on my own, so ditching this one is an easy decision.  This book came to me in ARC format, along with a bunch of other ARCs from a librarian/reviewer that lived in the same small town as me.  The bundle of old ARCs was a gift and I’m still grateful for it.  It also contained The Game of Love and Death, which, if I haven’t screamed about it enough, is a fantastic book.

So this book?  Coming in at 2.5 stars, it is not an impressive read.  It’s not one I would read again.  I don’t believe in throwing away or destroying books, so I donate them.  This one is getting donated.  I guess I hope whoever gets it is happy, but in general?  Not that good.

It won’t be missed.


How do you feel about violence in YA?  One of the things Bergstrom said in his interview was the hesitation of other publishing companies about the depth of violence.  I think it depends on the reader, personally.  Tell me what you think about violence and YA books in the comments!

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2 responses to “The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

  1. The author of this novel really comes across as a massive snob in his interviews. It’s amazing that he thinks he’s so much better than Suzanne Collins. He’s got a real hate-on for her and it’s WEIRD. It’s funny that he uses the “f” slur in his “morally complicated” novel. It’s not morally complicated. Don’t do it.

    As for the violence…..teenagers really like horror games and action movies. I feel like having violence in YA books is just knowing your audience.

    • Amber

      I do feel fortunate to have been able to experience the book *before* reading the interviews – I think it helped me be a little kinder to it. It’s certainly not any more “morally complicated” than any other YA books I’ve ever read. That whole section filled with slurring and bashing, honestly, was unacceptable. You’re right – nothing morally complicated about it. While I don’t know the man and hesitate to cast shade on his personal beliefs, it does, honestly, come off as pure injected bigotry.

      And that doesn’t belong in *any* book. Ever. Period.