FIGHTING RUBEN WOLFE

From Australia, Zusak debuts with an intense tale about boxing, brotherly solidarity, and searching for self-respect. The Wolfe family is on the skids, with Mr. Wolfe five months out of work, Mrs. Wolfe barely able to keep food on the table, older sister Sarah coming home drunk more and more often, and brothers Cameron and Ruben firmly tagged as troublemakers. When a schoolmate calls his sister a whore, Ruben reacts with such devastating speed and efficiency that a local racketeer makes a job offer. Soon Ruben and Cameron are both sneaking off every Sunday afternoon for low-paying and, needless to say, illegal prizefights in a grimy warehouse before bloodthirsty crowds. Though Cameron can give a good account of himself in the ring, he lacks Ruben's raw talent and ferocious concentration. But even as Ruben runs up a string of victories, he confesses to Cameron that he may know how to win, but not how to lose, not how to pick himself up off the floor and keep going the way Cameron and the rest of the Wolfes do. Ultimately, the brothers are forced to face each other in the ring, but Ruben, ever the brains of the outfit, finds a way to turn what might have been an ugly, divisive fight into a reaffirmation of love and respect. Zusak's eccentric language—a smell is "raucous," a pause "yawns through the air," a young woman has "eyes of sky"—gives Cameron's narrative a slightly offbeat air that suits the brothers' escapade: part lark, part a real effort (however misguided) to break from the unpromising path down which they seem to be going. The book closes on a rising note, with the brothers, and the whole Wolfe clan, closer than ever, showing real signs of regaining its feet. Engrossing. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-24188-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

HEART OF THE HIDE

A lengthy yet endearing treat for young sports fans.

Elementary-school teacher and former sports reporter Petrucci weaves a poignant tale of a young boy with a cleft palate, who finds respite from the harsh realities of small-town life by playing baseball.

Twelve-year-old Nicky Palmieri is the leader of the Kelsey Avenue Crew, a neighborhood sandlot baseball team. Since he was born with a cleft palate and underbite which caused hearing and speech difficulties, however, he endures ridicule from the other students at Stiles Elementary School. Nicky undergoes several operations, all unsuccessful, and the school bullies refer to him as the “Lip” or “Elephant Man.” He battles his tormentors in the lunch line and is punished by a seemingly heartless principal for telling the truth about the brawl. Upon arriving home, Nicky is reprimanded once again, by his parents, for fighting in school. He determines that telling the truth consistently gets him into trouble, and thus invents lies to protect himself. Nicky finds solace in an afterschool job at the local deli. His boss Big John is the town’s legendary tough guy–a former athletic star and war veteran, he’s the keeper of neighborhood peace. Big John and his protégé Jerry Gambardella Jr. also coach the Kelsey Avenue Crew, and when Jerry unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, Nicky and his friends are crushed. The protagonist secretly places his prized baseball glove in the coffin with Jerry, then must contrive a string of lies when asked for its whereabouts. Big John unearths Nicky’s glove and tries to teach him that lying doesn’t pay. In spite of tragic events, Nicky begins to discover the value of good friends and a loving family, and finds confidence in his athletic abilities. Short, upbeat chapters maintain a steady pace, and the theme of the novel–truth and learning–is clearly, though often didactically, presented. The characters in Heart of the Hide are fleshed out and believable, as is the dialogue, which moves at a steady pace.

A lengthy yet endearing treat for young sports fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2006

ISBN: 978-1-60528-008-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

TRAPPED

Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.

A short, empathetic novel for middle-schoolers that addresses learning disabilities and bullying.

Retired teacher Spurr’s prior experience with learning-disabled children shines as she compassionately illustrates the world of Jamie Parker and the way dyslexia affects his everyday life. Jamie’s learned much from his fisherman father (who isn’t a great reader but has a wealth of practical knowledge about nature), but still doesn’t understand why his dad is so adamant that Jamie focus on schoolwork. School is difficult for Jamie–dyslexia not only makes coursework a challenge, but he is subjected to the bullying of Ray Quinn. He would far rather spend the day on his dad’s boat than in the classroom. Jamie’s first year of middle school promises to be the same as all the others–special reading classes, abuse from Ray and stress headaches–with the exception of finding a friend in newcomer Oscar. Over the course of several months, Jamie grows as he experiences success on the soccer field, collaborates on an interesting research project with Oscar and realizes the unfortunate circumstances that motivate Ray’s behavior. Oscar and Jamie have complementary skills in school and learn a great deal about Native Americans for an important social studies project, as well as learn a difficult lesson about bullying when their project disappears, leaving them with the threat of failing their class. When Jamie’s dog Mac has an accident, Ray plays a pivotal role, and because of this new bond, the relationship among the three boys is transformed. The book contains age-appropriate vocabulary and natural dialogue, with likable characters that help flesh out the absorbing plot. Readers learn about human behavior as the book opens topics–including disabilities, families and the local environment–for further discussion.

Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-595-43915-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2010

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