I just just finished reading Robert Lipsyte's YA novel The Contender -- and I loved it!
Published in 1967, the book is about a black teenager named Alfred Brooks. Brooks lives in Harlem and he's dropped out of school. He's got a dead-end job and though he's basically a decent kid, he's headed for trouble when he gets involved with the wrong crowd. Things change when Alfred starts working out at the local boxing club.
One of my favourite characters in the book (besides Alfred and his Aunt Pearl) is Alfred's coach Donatelli. He tells Alfred: "You have to start by wanting to be a contender, the man coming up, the man who knows there's a good chance he'll never get to the top, the man who's willing to sweat and bleed to get up as high as his legs and his brains and his heart will take him.... It's the climbing that makes the man. Getting to the top is an extra reward." (Don't you love that part?!)
There were a few spots in the book where the action got so intense I had to put the book away. But I kept coming back -- like Alfred in the boxing ring! Lipsyte, an award winning New York Times sports reporter, sure knows how to tell a story.
In a previous blog entry I mentioned how I'm taking boxing lessons (lesson #11 happens tomorrow)... and I'm thinking of writing a book about a girl boxer... so I'm going to be reading every boxing book I can get my hands on in the next year or so. Got any other suggestions for me? In the mean time, let's all make sure our legs and brains and hearts take us as high as we need to go!