A boy who knows only grinding despair finds hope within the walls of a gym.
Tony’s life is bleak and violent, as his drug-addict mother’s boyfriend regularly beats her up and gleefully includes Tony if he objects. At school, the boyfriend’s nephew further compounds the bullying. Until the principal, Mr. O, decides to help, Tony’s buddy Rob and the Vo-Tec auto-mechanics class are the only things that lighten his load. Now, not only does Rob want Tony to join the gym where they can be coached in Mixed Martial Arts, but the principal is threatening to take away Vo-Tec if Tony doesn’t go. Tony sees himself as trailer trash, with no options and no hope for a better life. Tony finds the gym’s fight world, with its rules and demands for toughness, a place where he can receive rare praise. At the gym he finds some respect, guys he can trust and a chance. A mighty confrontation is inevitable and proves predictably brutal. Full of foul language and crude talk, the painful scenarios never let up, including a horrifying encounter in which Tony must listen to a prostitute be beaten, knowing that earlier an abusive father sent his unwilling daughter to the same fate.
This is bound to have huge appeal to kids whose lives are being mirrored, and it may prompt luckier readers to take some positive action. (Fiction. 14 & up)