A girl who can’t stop “tagging”—spray painting her initials on buildings—is caught one too many times and sent to a struggling alternative school in a poor neighborhood in Montreal.
The survivor of a terrible riot, Tessa fears violence of any kind, but her new school has one required extracurricular activity: All students must learn to box. The teacher holds academic classes in the morning, and a boxing coach trains both boys and girls in the afternoon. To her surprise, Tessa begins to enjoy her boxing lessons and grows attached to the little school and its hard-luck students. She’s already friends with fellow tagger Pretty Boy, and she grows especially close to Jasmine, an Asian girl whose aunt has spent her fortune, leaving her destitute. All would be well, except that the woman who lives next door to their school takes exception to it and organizes an effort to force its closure. Tessa faces her most difficult test. Can she overcome her terror of public speaking and make the case for her school? Polak keeps her prose simple and straightforward, providing her readers with a suspenseful, insightful story that ticks off some hot buttons. The high-interest graffiti/boxing combo is supported by real affection for throwaway teens, resulting in a story that should have broad appeal.
Though simple, the story provides both insight and entertainment. (Fiction. 12-17)