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Photo by Sophie Davidson
Dizzy Tate was born in London but moved to Florida at age nine.
The Florida in Dizz Tate’s debut novel, ”Brutes,” is not the happiest place on Earth.
There are gated communities, sure, and chances to get recruited as models. But there’s also arson, suicide, and creatures lurking in the lake. It is a feral and violent landscape, which works well for a coming-of-age novel.
The novel, told in the collective “we,” follows a group of 13-year-old girls who spend their time following around their slightly older schoolmate, Sammy. While the girls live in the apartment towers with their drunk mothers, Sammy lives across the lake in the walled-off community of Falls Landing. One morning, Sammy goes missing. All the adults start a frantic search asking, “Where is she?” Only the girls know where she is, and they keep this secret from the adults (and the reader).
While these girls are loving and loyal, you shouldn’t mistake them for being kind. They’re the “brutes” in question: feeding baby birds to stray cats, watching a fellow kid nearly drown without offering help, and occasionally being cruel to one another just because they can. But Tate wanted to show this element of adolescence because, to her, it felt authentic:
“I think when you feel unloved, and you really want to be loved, it’s a dangerous combustible situation, and I don’t think it’s always expressed sweetly or kindly…it’s grabby, it’s needy, it’s sticky— it’s not pretty,” she told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, “And that’s something I really remember as a 13-year-old.”
Tate—who'll join Sarah Gerard virtually on Wednesday, Feb. 16 for a talk facilitated by Tombolo Books
—was born in London but moved to Florida at age nine and spent her tween and teen years in Orlando, a place that has influenced her fiction deeply:
“There is something kind of beautiful about (Florida) and something kind of deranged about it,” she explained. “You can build a huge mansion, but then a sinkhole opens up under your bed while you sleep. It’s just so interesting. It’s a real kind of gift to grow up there and get to experience that.”
Beauty and insanity do walk hand in hand in this novel, from how the girls act to the situations they find themselves in. While I’m sure most eighth graders worldwide feel that dichotomy, ”Brutes” is undoubtedly a Floridian book. The whole atmosphere of the novel feels deeply Floridian, with its violent storms and blistering sidewalks, but there is a gauziness to it. Things are a bit vague. We never know what city we’re in or what mother belongs to which girl. Everything is a little dreamy—much like memory—which lets Tate explore some fantastical elements in the book.
“I wanted the external and the emotional reality to match,” Tate said. While Tate does stretch reality at times, she doesn’t break it. For some, this might still feel too weird. Parts of the book do stray from the realism path. But it works well. Both childhood and memory are filled with exaggerations; throw in the naturally surreal world of Central Florida, and you’re bound to get something strange.