Doreen Fritz's Reviews > Why I Fight

Why I Fight by J. Adams Oaks
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Nov 22, 11

bookshelves: abraham-lincoln-h-s-book-award-nomi
Read in November, 2011

Another of the nominees for the Illinois Abraham Lincoln H.S. Book Award for 2012, this book would be one to suggest to your reluctant readers, especially boys. The main character, Wyatt, is 12 when his Uncle Spade shows up and takes him away. Wyatt is happy to leave his parents and go with his uncle, though we're not sure why until much later in the book. Spade travels around the country, just getting by on the little he makes by selling this or that, and visiting a series of girlfriends. Wyatt, afraid that his uncle will abandon him, adapts to whatever his uncle wants: when to talk (or not), jobs he wants done, when to stay out of his way, when to pick up and just get in the car cuz it's time to move on, when to go on a beer run, etc. Wyatt grows to be big for his age, and he is strong. When his uncle enters him in a pig-catching contest at a county fair, Wyatt is competing against other kids his age and younger - all much smaller than he. Wyatt is afraid of the pig, but when it comes running at him, he just slugs it and knocks the pig out, which upsets some in the crowd, but which wins him the $50 prize -- as well as a speculative look from his uncle. And now Uncle Spade has a new way to make a living, putting Wyatt up in fights, with Spade running the betting pool.

This book has some violent scenes, but also some poignant and heart-breaking moments when Wyatt, still a young kid, talks about the one friend he makes (at one of Spade's regular stop-in locations, in Washington, I think.) When they visit Wyatt's grandmother, Spade's mother, we even glimpse some goodness in Spade. One of the strengths of this book is that we see most of the characters in depth: no one is all bad or all good. Most characters, though weak, seem to be caught by their bad decisions, by circumstances, or by ignorance. We suspect that they could have gone in a different direction, at some point, but now they don't know how to get back. And we hope that Wyatt, young as he is, can make different choices and save himself.
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