Knockout Games by G. Neri

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KnockoutGamesInspired by true events, Neri (Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, Lee & Low, 2010) has written a powerful YA story that reflects the realities of life at the raw edges of our society.

15 year-old Erica feels alienated and angry: Her parents have split up, she and her mother have moved to St. Louis, and she has no friends at her new school, where she is one of only a few white kids. But she finds a connection when she videos some kids playing the Knockout Game – hitting a random person until he or she is unconscious – and she gradually gets drawn into their group when she becomes involved with the Knockout King.

Caught up in the visceral, slightly sickening thrill of the game, Erica initially shies away from the moral issues, and it is only when the game goes too far that she faces what she is involved in and decides to make amends.

Told from the perspective of Erica, the only white kid in the group, the casual violence initially has only subtle racial overtones, but the issues become much more overt when a neighborhood action group becomes involved: the white community feels that violence committed against them is ignored by the police and the black community feels that the police unfairly single them out for prosecution. I’m unsure why Neri, an African American author, chose to write from the perspective of a white girl, especially as the other (mostly African American) characters are not particularly well-developed.

There are no easy solutions to these racial and social fractures in real life and Neri only just avoids a glib resolution in this otherwise morally complex novel.

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