Books. Books. More books. That's pretty much what steals my attention at any given point in time. I collect them. I am terrible at actually getting round to reading all of them because I'm always buying far too many to read straight away and by the time I've finished one, I've bought three more. They multiply exponentially; It's painful. Really. Then there are the books that others buy me. Those go to the top of the pile out of a sense of loyalty and politeness. One such book that has worked its way to the top of my pile recently is Marcus Zusak's "Fighting Ruben Wolfe" (£5.99 or less usually). I picked it up with excitement and off I went into my own little world for a day or two.
---What the actual Eff?---
I've read and enjoyed a couple of Zusak's books now ("The book thief" and "I am the messenger") and so I was quite happy to pick this one out of the pile and roll with it. Most of his books are for teens but they do deal with a grittier side of life than other teen stories I've picked up. Zusak himself is fairly good looking so that helped me form my small love affair with him.
I was very curious to what the book was actually about as the blurb on the back, rather irritatingly, doesn't really give much away at all. A perfect example of this was when someone at work asked me what it was about. I was only a page or two in so I said "I really don't know!" to which they replied simply by rolling their eyes, picking it up and reading the back. The response? "..Oh... wow... so you really don't know!" To be honest with you, now that I've read it, it's still quite difficult to really say what the book is actually about. It is one of those books that you can read and be interested in but come away without it really having touched your brain in any way that leaves a mark. I can't say this is a good thing, but I also can't say it's a bad thing.
---A little bit of Plot goes a long way...---
If you are not slower than a potato, you will probably pick up from the cover art work (a young boy wearing boxing gloves and a fair bit of blood splatter) and the name (Fighting Ruben Wolfe) that there is some sort of boxing going on. You'd be correct. The book focuses on two brothers, Cameron and Ruben Wolfe. We aren't informed how old they are other than the fact they are under the legal gambling age in Australia (which is currently 18) and that Ruben, the older of the two has friends who have left school, work and drink. I'd say that makes him about 17, but that is just where my mind landed. Cameron is a couple of years younger but again we don't get any indication as to how much younger or what age he is. That frustrates me a little bit as it does make you unsure if you are picturing the story correctly while you are reading. Regarless of their age, their family is going through a very rough patch due to their father being out of work and being stubborn enough not to claim the dole. After someone informs Ruben that his sister is a bit easy, Ruben beats seven shades of a certain substance out of said informant. Word eventually gets round and eventually "Cam" and "Rube" are swept up into the sleazy world of illegal boxing by a sleazy older man.
I'd say I won't go into much more detail so as not to ruin the story, but to be honest, there isn't much more to tell. Most of the book deals with a lot of the inner workings and thoughts of Cameron and not a hell of a lot happens. Does this mean the book isn't good? No. It certainly is full of very poignant and deep moments (it even says so in the blurb!) and if you allow it, it could easily make you reflect on your life and hardships. At the same time, it's also a very simple book. It follows a very straight lined plot; nothing comes out of the blue. It's bleak, and at times predictable, but it reflects the situation that the Wolfe family find themselves in.
I would imagine if you grew up in a family that had similar issues then you might relate a bit more to the characters. I got on quite well with Camerons thought process and shyer personality, especially when it's juxtaposed next to the stronger, almost fearless Ruben but that's probably got something to do with the fact that I have an older brother who is also quite fearless and, growing up, I was a bit more shy.
Reading this may sound like I didn't enjoy the book. That would be wrong. The authors writing style has always fascinated me. His style is incredibly colloquial as in his previous book "I am the messenger" and since they are both set in Australia I found a lot of similarities between the words and phrases used in both books. He also uses quite a lot of lists to give fast and hard descriptions of situations and surroundings. He does vary this by occasionally going into a bit more detail about how things look or are happening, but a lot of it is left up to the reader's imagination. I'm undecided if I like this technique. It can seem a bit lazy at times to be presented with almost half a page of one word sentences. I'd occasionally like to be sucked into the writers detailed imaginings. Sometimes though, it does seem like a very fitting way to tell the story. Jabs. Punches. Frantic. Quick. Jarring. I think I wouldn't mind it so much if it wasn't used so frequently, but as it stands it feels like a very easy fall-back for Zusak.
Another strange method is used at the end of every chapter. A different font is used which looks like handwriting and a small bed time conversation between Cameron and Ruben plays out. I assume he uses the font to point out that you have gotten to the conversation at the end of the chapter but it can seem a tad childish. I don't see the need for it to change font as it soon becomes obvious and the conversations usually start the same way. It took me a couple of chapters to warm to it and phase the font change out of my mind. When you compare the conversations, they do show a change in the boys' relationship with each other throughout the book, with Ruben becoming more and more withdrawn and nearer the end not even responding to Cameron. At the same time this is done very subtly so doesn't really punch you in the face until you sit down and think about it. Another interesting technique but not used to its full potential.
---Surprised by the Bell---
One thing I did not enjoy was the ending of the book. I felt like the book had just started to build up to something big happening and then it just stops. Nothing overwhelming happened; just one last conversation and the boys walk off into the sunset. A complete anti-climax. There were a couple of loose ends to tie up too, even though from the rest of the story you can pretty much assume the outcome of said loose ends with almost absolute surety. It just feels lazy! There's that word again!
Another reason the ending creeps up on you is that a good half a centimetre of the book is actually an excerpt from Zusak's The Book Thief. I was merrily reading away, aware of the fact I was drawing nearer to the end, but not quite there yet. I reached the end of another satisfactory chapter, turned the page and all of a sudden the story has disappeared! I flipped back and forward looking for more pages hidden in the one I'd just turned, but to no avail. I had reached the end without even knowing it and therefore felt a little short changed. Zusak could have easily used the extra half centimetre of pages to continue the story to its full extent and leave the readers feeling satisfied instead of a cheap attempt at coasting on the success of an earlier publication. It was almost like he was saying "I know this book had a bit of a duff ending, but look! I can do better! Honest I can!"
Everything combined the story feels very much like a very short dip into the Wolfe Family's life, almost as if there may be more to follow. It just so happens there IS more to follow as Zusak has written another book centred around Cameron and Ruben called "Getting the Girl", though having not read that one yet, I can't say if it touches on any of the story within the pages of "Fighting Ruben Wolfe". I suspect it's a stand alone story later in the boy's lives.
---Knock-out or Not?---
It's a difficult vedict to come to, but I did actually enjoy the book. While not being incredibly heavy, it does stir the occasional thought within your head and your heart but those thoughts can be lost unless you are trying to find them. It's not worth any awards for amazing writing but it's another "nice" story from Zusak that's incredibly easy to work your way through in a matter of a day or two. I imagine Zusak was aiming more toward younger readers who don't want too much cluttering up the story. With that in mind, I found some of the writing a bit lazy as it very closely emulates his style from other books. Some of the techniques are over-used and others make me want to sit Zusak down and ask exactly why he felt them necessary. If you are looking for a little bit of candy-floss for your brain, I would recommend this book. If you are easily annoyed at abrupt endings or looking for a heavy book full of meaning and a plethora of hidden messages and meaning then it's probably best to look elsewhere. I'm going to be harsh and give it three stars, mediocre, but it is still worth a read.