Book Review: The Boxer

Nikesh Shukla

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

published: 3rd June 2019
spoilers? nope


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 Shona, 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.

A gripping, life-affirming YA novel about friendship, radicalisation and finding where you belong.

Galley provided by publisher

Sometimes your rating for a book depends more on how much you’re in the mood for a particular book than the book itself, and I definitely feel like that’s partly what happened here. For some reason, I was just not in the right frame of mind to read this one and that probably did have a bit of an impact on how much I enjoyed it. But don’t get me wrong – I did still like this book. I could have liked it more, is what I’m saying.

The Boxer is about Sunny, who is the subject of a racist attack while waiting for the train. At the suggestion of a friendly taxi driver, Surinder, Sunny decides to join a boxing club. Here, he meets Shobu, a former professional boxer who becomes his mentor, and Keir, another youth boxer. Sunny and Keir strike up a quick friendship, but things start turning sour as tensions rise in Bristol and Sunny starts to lose Keir to radicalisation.

If there’s one thing in books that really gets me sad, it’s the falling apart of friendships. Even for absolutely valid reasons like here. So, obviously, this book made me sad. Which, I guess, is testament to Nikesh Shukla’s writing and character development. I knew from the start that Keir would go down the route that he did (it’s pretty well-signposted, even with the blurb telling you), and yet I still found myself sad on Sunny’s behalf that he was losing a friend in this way, even as he built a family around himself.

Also testament to the character development is that I felt genuinely nervous for Sunny at certain points in the book. (To be fair, at least one of those was because he was doing a stupid thing, even if it was for someone he thought could still be a friend.) Which meant, at times, I was reluctant to read it almost, because I didn’t want to have my heart broken like that.

All this makes it sound like I could definitely have rated this higher than I did, but I think what I struggled with at times was the writing style. I can be fairly particular about writing styles, especially ones I like, and there were just a few too many times where it felt a little clunky to me. I got used to it eventually – I definitely noticed less clunkiness as the book went on – but that early feeling of not really liking the writing stuck with me.

Writing aside, though, this was probably a case of right book at the wrong time for me. So, although I liked it, I could have liked it more.

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