Chris's Reviews > The Contender

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
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's review
Jan 02, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: boy-book, ethnic, realistic-fiction, ya, lis722


Alfred Brooks is a black teenager living in Harlen with his aunt and younger girl cousins after his father leaves and his mother dies. He is also a high-school dropout who feels that his life is going nowhere. He's had the same old job at a local grocery store, and there are no opportunities for advancement. He wants to be someone, someone special. Then one of his best friends, James, starts hanging around with the wrong group of teens, and later is sent to prison for robbing Alfred's grocery store, Alfred knows that these are not the kids to be with. To his surprise he finds himself climbing the stairs to Donatelli's Gym announcing that he wants to be a fighter.

At first, Mr. Donatelli tried to dissuade Alfred from boxing, by telling him about the rigorous training he will have to go through to become a contender, but Alfred still wants to try. He runs in the morning, eats a select diet, and after work, he goes to the gym to work out.
For a long while, Alfred maintains his training. One night, however, Major and Hollis gang up on Alfred, and bring him to their clubroom. They keep Alfred there by telling him that James had just been let out of prison, and that he will stop by the club. While there, Alfred gets drunk and high. When James arrives Alfred sees him with a bag of cocaine, and knows that his friend has sunk further and further in to drug addiction. Alfred is sick for a few days then resumes his training.

Alfred has four professional fights. He wins the first after some effort, and knocks his opponent out in the second which leaves him full of remorse. The third fight is declared a draw because Alfred just doesn't have the killer instinct to finish off his opponent Mr. Donatelli states that it is time for Alfred to stop, but Alfred has one last fight with a bigger, stronger and more experienced fighter. He looses but he has proved that he was able to finish what he started - to be a fighter. It's not about winning, but about wanting something and having the self discipline and desire to get it. Now there are other things Alfred wants to do, like go back to school and help the neighborhood kids. The book ends with James robbing the Epstein's grocery store again and getting hurt. Alfred finds him in the secret hiding spot they used as kids and persuades James to get help.

My Comments:

This is an older book, written in 1967 and it shows some signs of age. I did not really get a sense of the "blackness" of the main character, Alfred. The author is white - is that the reason? There is no black slang, "gangster" talk or "n" word that is so common today. Sex, drugs and gang activity are not as gritty as in books written today. The story is good, although somewhat simplistic. I didn't get Alfred's sense of urgency in becoming a fighter. I think this would still work for teens today but perhaps at a younger age level - perhaps junior high

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