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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Knock Out Games by G. Neri

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The Knock Out Games
by G. Neri
I was glad that I was approved to read this book.  Neri's book, Yummy, the Last Days of a Southside Shorty, got great reviews; but that wasn't the only reason.  The main reason that I wanted to read this book was that at our school we did a unit on the knock out games in our "Learning over Lunch" series with our resource officer.  I had never heard of the knock out games before, but after reading this book and the notes Neri wrote at the end, I'm adding The Knock Out Games to my Fall book order!
Erica's parents have split.  Her father has left them without resources, so her mother moves them from Little Rock to St. Louis and gets a job at a lab working the night shift.  Erica barely sees her mother as she tries to assimilate in a mostly black urban high school.  The only class that seems to spark her attention is art. 
As a parting gift, Erica's father has given her a video camera.  Her art teacher sees the potential in her and encourages her to express herself through video.  In what turns out to be a portent move, Erica ends up filming and editing a "knock out", and posts it to Face Book.  The video (and Erica) get the attention of the "Knock Out King" and events start to spiral out of control.
There is nothing soft or easy about this book.  Neri takes a close look at what many urban teens face on a day to day basis.  This is realistic fiction at it's realest!  Although hard to read, Erica's journey into the knock out world is touching and compelling.  Spoiler alert:  She's going to be okay, but it's going to be a long, long road.
Another thing that I thought was well done by Neri was that Erica isn't your typical ingénue; she's large and has flaming red hair.  She wears a hoodie so as not to draw attention to herself.  She has issues, none of which are packaged nicely at the end of the book.  Again, she is real.
Neri wrote this book in response to a school visit he made to St. Louis; The Knock Out Games comes ripped from the headlines.  I will most definitely put this book in my collection, and feel it will become an important read in libraries across the country.

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