Cover of Tap Out by Eric Devine. A morose teen in a green hoodie stands in front of an RV and some motorcycles

About the Book

Title: Tap Out
Published: 2012

Cover Story: Stuff That’s Actually in the Book
Drinking Buddy:
Testosterone Level:
Talky Talk:
You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?
Bonus Factors: 
Grinding Poverty, Clichés
Bromance Status:
Brings Out the Principal in Me

Cover Story:

Let’s see: depressed-looking kid who wears a hoodie? That’s in the book. Dilapidated trailer? Also in the book. Motorcycles? Check. Road to nowhere? Check.

Novel idea, publishers, a cover that actually has something to do with the story. Hell, anything is better than a photo of two handsome teens about to kiss, shot from the noses down.

The Deal:

Tony Antioch is a typical American teenager, who has nothing better to do than whine about the annoyances in his life. His mom doesn’t seem to have enough time for him, what with her depression, her meth habit, and her series of boyfriends who beat her and Tony. There’s nothing to do in his neighborhood (except for working with the local motorcycle gang as a drug mule). His friends just don’t understand him, always going on about their own issues: I’m pregnant, I’m in debt to the local bad-asses, my father  forces me to perform sexual acts to sweeten his drug deals. Whine, whine, whine…

Tony has given up long ago. No one from the Pleasant Meadows trailer park ever leaves, except in handcuffs. The police never come there unless someone’s been shot, and his school considers him little more than a seat-holder. He’s resigned himself to dying young and leaving an emaciated, pockmarked corpse.

Strangely, not everyone sees him as a lost cause. His principal refuses to allow him to give up on himself, seeing potential in Tony (what an odd attitude for an administrator). Tony’s friend Rob wants him to join him at the Mixed Martial Arts gym, determined to show him that bashing heads can be fun, when done in a sportsmanlike way. Who knows, Tony may beat the odds yet.

Unfortunately, others have noticed Tony as well. Cameron, his mother’s current lump on the couch, resents Tony’s very existence. And once Tony becomes a fighter to be reckoned with, the local drug runners decide they could use someone with his talents. Maybe there is no hope for Tony.

Drinking Buddy: Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

Though quite frankly, alcohol is about the last thing Tony needs. Tony, you make me ashamed of my middle-class background. I wish I could just let you crash on my couch for a while. I wish all the Tonys of the world had a couch to crash on, a fridge to raid, and maybe someone to talk to.

Testosterone Level: 10

Brutal MMA fighting. Even more brutal fighting outside the gym. Arson, drug dealers, motorcycle gangs, autoshop, and vagina jokes. You’ll grow hair on your knuckles just from handling this book.

Talky Talk: You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

Ralphie from A Christmas Story, getting his mouth washed out with soap

Normally, I don’t care for excess use of the F word in YA literature. That word is like aftershave, garlic, and the two-point conversion: use sparingly for the greatest effect. In this book, it’s difficult to find a paragraph without that word, let alone a page.

However, I’m going to make a rare exception for Tap Out. Tony and his friends are long past trying to impress anyone. Not because they have nothing to offer. It’s just that no one cares. No one. Not their parents, not their teachers, not each other. And when everyone has given up on you, then why not pepper your language with profanity? It’s not like it fucking matters.

Bonus Factors: Grinding Poverty

Heather and Lily stand outside their trailer while their mom yells at them from the door (Panic)

You there. Yeah, you at the computer. You eat dinner today? Know where you’re sleeping tonight? Do you feel free from physical violence, both in your neighborhood and home? Great. You’re a lot better off than a lot of American kids.

Tony doesn’t worry about having a zit or wearing the right brand of jeans.

A lot of contemporary YA deals with serious issues, but Tap Out may be the most brutal, stark portrayal of the utter hopelessness that is a reality for a lot of kids.

Bonus Factor: Clichés

Let’s count ’em off.

Morgan Freeman with megaphone as Principal Joe Clark in Lean on Me

The tough-as-hell high school principal who believes in his students.

MIckey Goldmill from the Rocky franchise

The intimidating martial arts coach.

Mr. T in Not Another Teen Movie

The wise old janitor.

Normally, adult-stereotypes are one of my YA pet peeves. However, Devine does a great job in breathing life into these tired old roles. Just because a character is overused, doesn’t mean he can’t be original.

Bromance Status: Brings Out the Principal in Me

When you read something like The Hunger Games, the story can overwhelm and depress you. But then we look up from the book and think ‘Hey, at least none of this is real.’ Unfortunately, you can’t do that with Tap Out. It’s real. It’s now. And unless there are YA authors in the Sudan, this is as bad as it gets.

I wish I could do more. I wish I could make a difference.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Running Press.  I received no money for writing this review, though the author promised me a whiskey. I need it.. Tap Out is available now.

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.