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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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A lengthy yet endearing treat for young sports fans.

HEART OF THE HIDE

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

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Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting—and always gripping.

UNBROKEN

A WORLD WAR II STORY OF SURVIVAL, RESILIENCE, AND REDEMPTION

The author of Seabiscuit (2001) returns with another dynamic, well-researched story of guts overcoming odds.

Hillenbrand examines the life of Louis Zamperini, an American airman who, after his bomber crashed in the Pacific during World War II, survived 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by Japanese soldiers and subjected to inhuman treatment for the next two years at a series of POW camps. That his life spiraled out of control when he returned home to the United States is understandable. However, he was able to turn it around after meeting Billy Graham, and he became a Christian speaker and traveled to Japan to forgive his tormentors. The author reconstructs Zamperini’s wild youth, when his hot temper, insubordination, and bold pranks seemed to foretell a future life of crime. His talents as a runner, however, changed all that, getting him to the 1936 Olympics and to the University of Southern California, where he was a star of the track team. When the story turns to World War II, Hillenbrand expands her narrative to include men who served with him in the Air Corps in the Pacific. Through letters and interviews, she brings to life not just the men who were with Zamperini on the life raft and in the Japanese camps, but the families they left behind. The suffering of the men is often difficult to read, for the details of starvation, thirst and shark attacks are followed by the specifics of the brutalities inflicted by the Japanese, particularly the sadistic Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who seemed dedicated to making Zamperini’s life unbearable. Hillenbrand follows Watanabe’s life after the Japanese surrender, providing the perfect foil to Zamperini’s. When Zamperini wrote to his former tormentor to forgive him and attempted to meet him in person, Watanabe rejected him. Throughout are photographs of World War II bombers, POW camps, Zamperini and his fellow GIs and their families and sweethearts, providing a glimpse into a bygone era. Zamperini is still thriving at age 93.

Alternately stomach-wrenching, anger-arousing and spirit-lifting—and always gripping.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6416-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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