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THE CHAMPION by Maurice Gee

THE CHAMPION

By Maurice Gee

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-86561-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 In New Zealand in 1943, wounded American GIs were invited to local homes to convalesce. Drawing on his own boyhood, Gee depicts the dramatic, ultimately tragic, events surrounding the visit of one such soldier: Private Jackson Coop. ``Jack'' is nothing like the enemy-destroying hero that 12-year-old Rex Pascoe has conjured up after reading simplistic pulp fiction: he's courteous, quiet, kind--and black, which elicits enmity from several locals (though their own policeman is a Maori) and especially from two other GIs, Ozark rednecks. In a skillfully plotted sequence involving two more children (half-Maori Dawn and Croatian Leo, both also butts of prejudice), Rex comes to admire and finally to love Jack; in the end, after Jack goes AWOL rather than fight the rednecks, Rex and the others try to help him escape. Jack himself comprises too many clichÇs to be a fully realized character (he's musically and physically gifted, with street smarts learned in a Chicago slum), but he's an admirable one, well suited to contrast with Rex's superhero ideal--as well as with his flawed father Alf (``gabby tricky Dad, my crooked dad'') and his shady deals. A lively, idiosyncratic cast keeps the story moving; and while it's less intensely suspenseful than Gee's The Fire-Raiser (1992), it's another likable, thoughtful examination of wartime pressures and prejudices in a small, vividly portrayed New Zealand community. (Fiction. 10-14)