Title: The Boxer
Author: Nikesh Shukla
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Publication Date: June 27th 2019
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
Told over the course of the ten rounds of his first fight, this is the story of amateur boxer Sunny. A seventeen-year-old feeling isolated and disconnected in the city he’s just moved to, Sunny joins a boxing club to learn to protect himself after a racist attack. He finds the community he’s been desperately seeking at the club, and a mentor in trainer Shobu, who helps him find his place in the world. But racial tensions are rising in the city, and when a Far Right march through Bristol turns violent, Sunny is faced with losing his new best friend Keir to radicalisation.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
The Boxer is a powerful and timely UKYA novel about racially-motivated hate crime, far-right radicalisation and boxing. Set in Bristol, the narrative alternates between the past and present and follows seventeen-year-old Sunny on his journey to recovery after a racist attack on a train platform leads him to take up boxing as per the recommendation of a friendly taxi driver.
Told over the course of ten rounds of his first official fight, the story first and foremost tackles common misconceptions that many of us, including Sunny, have about boxing. I really enjoyed learning more about the sport through the discussion on how it’s not at all about hurting each other in the ring but about taking up space – which is quite ironic as Sunny is a quiet kid who would much rather not be seen but struggles to blend in or hide because of his skin colour.
I also loved that this novel took us outside of London because it delivers a powerful reminder that Britain, as a whole, has a problem with race, no matter how much we try to ignore it or pretend that we live in progressive areas that are far more accepting than the capital. Through the unravelling of Sunny’s short friendship with Keir, who is lost to radicalisation after racial tensions begin to rise, we are forced to accept that, when the time comes to pick a side, it’s always going to be about race.
Nevertheless, it’s Sunny’s courage and determination that is the true highlight of this novel. It’s about having the strength to keep on fighting for his friend as well as the strength to keep on fighting with his friend. But, ultimately, it’s about knowing what’s actually worth fighting for and finding that strength to walk away.