Review: Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

I haven't posted much in the last week, sigh. But it's about time I did a book review.

Book Summary:

Cameron and Ruben Wolfe, are brothers from a family clinging to the ragged edge of the working class. Initially to make some money, the boys hook up with a sleazy fight promoter who sees something marketable, audience-pleasing in the untrained brothers’ vulnerability.

So they hide the boxing from their long-suffering mother. And Cameron hides what's going on in his head from the girls who come to the matches, the girls he wishes he could reach.

But the Wolfes soon find that they’re fighting for more than tips and pay-off money. It becomes for them a fight for identity, for dignity, and for each other.

The question is, in a fight like that, who makes it out of the ring intact?

My Opinion:

"She smiles pretty, and in that split second, I forget. I forget about Perry Cole and all those future punches. It makes me wonder, Do we spend most of our days trying to remember or forget things? Do we spend most of our time running toward or away from our lives? I don't know."

So wonders Cameron Wolfe, the big-hearted, tender protagonist of Fighting Ruben Wolfe. Passages like the one above--full of a quiet sort of wisdom, almost a ache to it--aren't uncommon in this book. They're plentiful, since in only 200 pages or so, Markus Zusak crafts a heartwarming, coming-of-age story full of beauty and uncanny insight. It' not surprising, given that this is the same author who wrote the magnificent The Book Thief and contemporary must-read I am The Messenger.

Yeah, that Zusak.

I haven't gone on a fangirl spiel about Zusak on this blog for a while, so some of you might not know that I'm, well, an obsessive fangirl about his works, to put it lightly. I've been trying to track down a reasonably priced Fighting Ruben Wolfe for the longest time, and last week, I finally managed to snatch up a cheap copy on Amazon.

It arrived yesterday.

I devoured it instead of breakfast.

This is the second book I've read about Cameron Wolfe, having caved and read Getting the Girl, the sequel, a while back. It doesn't really matter though, since even though this novel is part of a 3-book series, each book is standalone.

I loved it.

I love it because it's like an early sneak-peak of Zusak. If you start with the Cam books, move to I am the Messenger, and finish at The Book Thief, you can see a clear progression. The prose becomes more refined. The subject topic, more serious. The books, longer.

Still, you get the trademark Zusak: the swaggering sentence fragments, the standalone single-sentence paragraphs falling in quick succession down a page, the wonderful writing that steals your breath away, the characters that are so real that you can almost hear their hearts beating in between the pages.

I'm quite convinced that the Wolfe family are real people. Cameron, the main character, has a voice that's memorable. He's the boy who cares too much about everybody, who's scrawny and a little bit like a loser, who yearns for a girl to notice him, who's afraid, but who'll fight for anything, his heart is so big. Ruben is his brother--hungry, wolfish, trying to prove something. Then there's his tired mother, his out-of-work father, older siblings Sarah and Steve, and a house full of unpaid bills and encroaching despair.

When the brothers get their chance at money and a bit of glory by fighting in underground boxing ring, they seize the day. But really, this book isn't just about throwing punches, since all the action is secondary to the character growth. The brothers earn themselves a bit of self-respect, they mature, and their sibling relationship--it just expands, till you can feel the love the two brothers have for each other, till you can feel the love the whole Wolfe family has for each other. The Wolfe brothers' relationship really comes out in the passages at the end of every chapter--short conversations the brothers have before they fall asleep.

Then, there's the prose. When it's Zusak, you can expect to be blown away. Here's one of the many passages that made me stop reading so I could just sit and take in:

"We run together in track pants and old football jerseys and the city is awake and smoky-cold and our heartbeats jangle through the streets. We're alive. Our footsteps are folded neatly, one after the other. Rube's curly hair collides with sunlight. The light steps at us between the buildings. The train line is fresh and sweet and the grass in Belmore Park has the echoes of dew still on it. Our hands are cold. Our veins are warm. Our throats suck in the winter breath of the city, and I imagine people still in bed, dreaming. To me it, feels good. Good city. Good world, with two wolves running through it, looking of the fresh meat of their lives. Chasing it. Chasing hard even though they fear it. They run anyway."

The hair colliding with sunlight part...that just killed me. It really did.

So, what I've been meaning to say as I've bumbled around in this review, throwing words out left and right, is that I wish this book was readily available in every bookstore. It's beautifully written, and it's one of those books that YA readers need more of. It's a contemporary book with an original plot (nope, no dead characters here) with characters and conflicts that are real.

I just plain wish this book was easier to get a hold of.

If you're a dedicated Zusak fan, I'd definitely recommend that you do the best you can to get a hold of this, short of murder. If you're just a reader who is hungering for a lovely contemporary read, take a look around and see if you can't snatch up a copy somehow.

Rating: 9/10. Don't be scared off by the whole boxing premise. I have zero interest in boxing but I still loved this book.