Review Detail

Young Adult Fiction 218
Martial Arts and Domestic Abuse
Overall rating 
 
4.7
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
Eddie McGuire is a talented high school wrestler with a horribly short fuse. This is no doubt a result of the abuse he endured from his father early in his life, but his father has been in jail for eight years. Eddie (or Mac) and his mother barely get by, and he's hoping to get a college scholarship and be able to one day get a good job and help his mother out. When a ref at a tournament makes him angry, he lets a punch fly, and just like that, his chances of college are gone. Not only that, but he may be looking at jail time. Detective Harrow, who helped lock his father up, comes to the family and tells them what is going on. Mac doesn't see any other way out, and decides to run away. He is quickly approached by people who knew his father and have been following his wrestling career. The promoter runs the Brawlers, an illegal group that stages violent, no-holds-barred fights around town and makes a lot of money off the betting. This is as good an opportunity as any for a teen on the run, and Mac is soon ensconced in the home of Khajee and her elderly uncle. The two owe the promoter, and Khajee trains Mac while she goes to school and Mac keeps an eye on the uncle, Than. While he is a good wrestler, Mac doesn't know much about martial arts, but Khajee manages to train him enough that his underlying anger makes him a powerful opponent. He tries to get money to his mother, who desperately wants him to come home. He is also given the chance to make peace with his father, although this ends in a terrifying scene of violence, with the father being on the receiving end for a change. After the decline and death of Than, Mac realizes that he can' stay on the run forever, and he tries to figure out what to do with his life.
Good Points
While this book is definitely violent, with lots of scenes in the ring as well as the beat down Mac delivers to his father, it does not have much bad language, and has no sexual activity or other things that would make it objectionable to middle grade readers. This is a very hard thing to do, but I always appreciate it. Some middle school students want books that are fairly dark, and this is a great choice for readers who like Carl Deuker's titles (especially the 2005 Runner), Volponi's Black and White, and Alphin's Counterfeit Son. These books all have characters who fight against overwhelming odds as best they can.

It is refreshing that Mac and Khajee never slip into a romantic relationship. They are both teens dealing with adult problems, and they support each other and help each other out without complicating matters. Khajee is a great athlete and shows Mac that he can learn a lot from her. Watching the two of them try to care for Than was heartbreaking and showed that with all of their problems, they were both very mature.

Certainly, there are some things in the book that seem odd. Would Khajee's uncle really be indebted to the promoter to the point where both of their lives were held in thrall to him? Would Mac really have been able to run away, stay close to home, and not have been found by the police? Would he have been able to visit and beat up his father? I believed the motivation for that-- Mac hasn't gotten any counseling for his anger issues (also realistic, since his mother was struggling so much), and when presented with an opportunity to beat up his father, I can see him wanting to do that.

Brawler is an unusual book that adds a sports twist to a book that has a feel similar to spy books, has sympathetic characters in dire circumstances, and that will speak to teen readers who want a book that makes their own lives seem happy in comparison!
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