Cover of Fighting the Storm by Jarrah Loh. An angry boxer throws a bloodied fist at the viewer

About the Book

Title: Fighting the Storm (Cageside Chronicles: Tommy Knuckles Trilogy 1)
Published: 2012

Cover Story: Hand Me The Controller!
Drinking Buddy: It Dulls the Pain
Testosterone Level: Heavyweight
Talky Talk: School Librarian’s Dream
Bonus Factors: Coyotes, Training Montage
Bromance Status: (Manly Grunt)

Cover Story: Hand Me the Controller!

Fire up the Wii! We’re playing Fighting the Storm! I’m going to kick your…what? That’s not a video game? It looks like a video game. It’s a book?

Every librarian knows that all patrons judge books by their covers. And if I were back working in that junior high (I won’t go back! You can’t make me!), I wouldn’t be able to keep this one on the shelf.

The Deal:

Tommy is just a poor Mexican kid, growing up on the outskirts of Tijuana. His father was Lefty, an American-born boxer of some note, who was killed under strange and violent circumstances. Tommy finds himself the target of the local gang of psychos who leave him nearly comatose after every encounter. He doesn’t see much hope for the future. But his ol’ uncle runs a boxing gym where a well-known champion is coming for an exhibition fight. Tommy realizes that for once, he could be the one leaving someone unconscious in the dirt, spitting up teeth and blood. And it’s a sport!

Tommy soon finds himself in the glitzy cages of Las Vegas, fighting under the moniker of ‘Tommy Knuckles.’ And he meets a sweet girl named Gina, who also hurts people.

Okay, enough character development. Let’s get it on!

Drinking Buddy: It Dulls The Pain

Two pints of beer cheersing

Tommy has two gears: laying on the ground getting his face punched in, or whoopin’ arse. In most books, I’d complain that his character was shallow. In this one, it’s all we need. He’s the strong, violent type, and that works. Loh has created a likeable character who speaks in monosyllabic grunts.

Testosterone Level: Heavyweight

There’s something about an MMA book that makes me just want to go out and kick someone in the face. And today’s children need to realize that it’s only okay to break someone’s collarbone or smash their face into your knee if it’s done in the presence of a qualified referee.

Talky Talk: School Librarian’s Dream

My friend Antony John recently ran a workshop about getting books into the hands of boys. Now some Y chromosomes are willing to read anything with a strong plot and well-done characterization. The rest of us want an exciting cover, the promise of violence, and boobies. This book delivers two out of three. And it’s part of a trilogy, so who knows what the next books hold?

This is a short book (about 100 pages), part of a series, and simply, though not poorly, written. Just the right thing for a struggling or reluctant reader in middle school or older.

Bonus Factors: Coyotes

Wile E Coyote

No, not that kind.

A gavel, passport, and book that says "immigration law"

This kind. Tommy is not a US citizen, and has to hire a guy (a ‘coyote’) to sneak him across the border. I’m not sure I like this. Not the idea of illegal entry, but that the book portrays him as a kindly businessman, rather than the sort of scum who preys on the hopes and dreams of desperate people. Mexico was once my home, and I hate to deny anyone the opportunity to come to the US to find a better life…

Bonus Factor: Training Montage

Rocky raising his fists on the steps of the Philly Museum of Art.

Tommy trains by fighting a chain of unique opponents, each from a different country, with a different style of fighting and a different personality quirk: the ugly Mexican. The quiet Brazilian. The crazy Australian.

Why does this seem so familiar?

Movie poster for the film Street Fighter

Oh, yeah.

Bromance Status: (Manly Grunt)

This book will never win a literature award. It’s short, repetitive, and contains lines like “Lefty was my right-hand man”. But I couldn’t put it down, and I have a feeling that in terms of actually getting boys to read, this book wins the belt. I was thinking of putting in a bunch of boxing puns here, but I respect you people too much for that. This time.

Literary Matchmaking

Tap Out

Eric Devine’s Tap Out also deals with another poor kid trying to box his way out of poverty.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no beer.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.