The Boxer by Kathleen Karr, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Boxer
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The Boxer

by Kathleen Karr

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Hard-hitting historical fiction

Ever since his father ran off two years before, fifteen-year-old Johnny Woods has struggled to help support his ma and five siblings, sacrificing his own schooling in the process. Still, there's been hardly enough money each month to make the rent, and Johnny's dream of a house in Brooklyn, away from the tenement slums, is


Hard-hitting historical fiction

Ever since his father ran off two years before, fifteen-year-old Johnny Woods has struggled to help support his ma and five siblings, sacrificing his own schooling in the process. Still, there's been hardly enough money each month to make the rent, and Johnny's dream of a house in Brooklyn, away from the tenement slums, is out of reach.

Then Johnny discovers boxing. He is a natural-born fighter, with street smarts, determination, and an explosive uppercut. Although boxing is illegal in 1885 New York, Johnny powers his way through every obstacle, believing he has found the means to raise himself and his family out of poverty. But as he moves closer to his biggest fight yet, Johnny must reconcile his need to help his loved ones with a sharpening desire to achieve something outside the ring, starting with his education. In bringing to life Johnny's struggle and ultimate success, Kathleen Karr offers readers a compelling portrait of an appealing young champion.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“An enticing mix of sports, action, family drama and period detail in this saga of an amateur boxer growing up in 19th-century Manhattan . . . The book's one-two-punch pacing and warmhearted resolutions will keep the pages turning.” —Publisher's Weekly
Publishers Weekly
"Karr offers an enticing mix of sports action, family drama and period detail in this saga of a 15-year-old amateur boxer growing up in 19th-century Manhattan," PW said. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Karr (The Great Turkey Walk) offers an enticing mix of sports action, family drama and period detail in this saga of an amateur boxer growing up in 19th-century Manhattan. Fifteen-year-old Johnny's skill with his fists is as impressive as his high morals and deep devotion to family. After his drunken father runs off, Johnny assumes the role of head of the household. Money being tight, the teen attempts to earn an extra $5 by entering an illegal fight. His subsequent arrest turns out to be fortuitous. In jail, Johnny meets fellow convict Michael O'Shaunnessey, an ex-middleweight champ, who acts as Johnny's personal trainer, manager and mentor. The strenuous workouts Johnny and his new coach begin in their shared cell set into motion a series of events that continues long after their release from prison. On top of Johnny's goal of becoming a champ, he yearns to finish high school and move his family out of their tenement. Most readers will be willing to suspend their disbelief of Johnny's record number of wins long enough to cheer him on during his struggle to fight fair both inside and outside of the ring. The book's one-two-punch pacing and warmhearted resolutions will keep the pages turning. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
A six-month stint in prison for illegal boxing turns out to be a fortunate occurrence for fifteen-year-old Johnny Woods. It is there that he meets Michael O'Shaunnessey who sees promise in Johnny and teaches him how to box correctly. It has been three years since his father deserted the family, and Johnny sees this as an opportunity to provide a better life for his mother and siblings. His hard work pays off, and he soon rises to the top. But there are other personal challenges, such as the dilemma he faces when offered a lucrative sum to intentionally lose a match, and how to contend with the return of his father. Life in 1880s New York City comes to life, complete with historical details such as sweatshops, tenement housing, a whooping cough epidemic, smoky back rooms and political graft. Descriptions of Johnny's training and boxing matches are vivid. Johnny is a likeable and memorable character and readers will cheer him on as he learns the strength of his convictions and literally fights his way out of poverty. 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
John Aloysius Xavier Woods, a.k.a. Johnny, or "Chopper," is an appealing young boxer, reminiscent of Rocky, as he fights his way out of The Tombs in 1885 New York City. Fifteen-year-old Johnny has his mother and five siblings to care for, and he is smitten with the thrill of the fight, a certain street savvy, and the power to raise his family out of the tenements. Readers will cheer as Johnny learns the necessary maneuvers, triumphs over injustice, and brings his boxing talent into the featherweight ring at the New York Athletic Club, courtesy of his friend, the "Perfessor." Gritty, powerful fight scenes are coupled with loving family drama and the desire to pursue education to fulfill dreams. Historical details give depth to the story as the cost of food, rent, and clothing are primary concerns for this teen, who wholeheartedly assumes the role of the father who deserted them years before. Touching scenes of sibling relationships include a day's outing with his sister, Maggie, who naïvely asks, "What's a museum?" Upon visiting the Met, she decides she will become an artist. When a whooping cough epidemic overtakes the neighborhood, Johnny is able to pull his family through, help his neighbors, and sidestep flirtatious advances from Maureen. Finally, as Johnny approaches his big fight in Canada, readers will be particularly enchanted with his awestruck look at Niagara Falls. Johnny Woods is a charming role model for this century's boys and girls who believe in making dreams come true. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, FarrarStraus Giroux, 144p, $16. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Nancy Zachary

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

Before Johnny Woods, fifteen, gains the name, "The Chopper," he finds himself in jail for boxing illegally at Brodie's Saloon in at Brodie's Saloon in the New York City's Lower East Side of the late 1800s. In jail, he meets Mr. O'Shaunnesey who teaches Johnny how to train and box when he sees Johnny's natural ability and determination. Once out of jail, Johnny struggles to provide for his mother and younger siblings, until as promised, O'Shaunnessey contacts Johnny. Johnny begins training at the New York Athletic Club. When Johnny finally wins a challenging professional fight arranged as the sport of boxing is gaining some prominence and regulation, he realizes the challenges in this sport include more than defeating one's opponent. This "rags to riches, turn of the century American dream" story provides believable and positive role models for young people struggling in today's world. Genre: Sports/19th Century. 2000, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 160 pp., $16.00. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Sheila Gullickson; Moorhead, Minnesota
To quote from the review of the hardcover edition in KLIATT, September 2000: Johnny Woods, age 15, has been supporting his mother and his five little brothers and sisters ever since his father left the family two years before. Slaving away at a sweatshop barely gives him enough for the rent for their cramped tenement apartment in New York City in 1885, so when Johnny passes Brodie's Saloon and sees a sign offering a prize of $5 to the winner of a boxing match, he's eager to try his luck—only to be arrested almost immediately, as boxing is illegal. Johnny is sent off to prison for six months. There his luck changes, as he meets O'Shaunnessey, a former boxing champion who teaches Johnny the correct way to box, and after prison takes him under his wing and grooms him as a lightweight. Johnny becomes known as "the Chopper" and is undefeated in his many bouts, meanwhile struggling to complete his high school degree and support his family, working hard to achieve his dream of moving them to a house in Brooklyn. Karr, author of such other YA novels as The Great Turkey Walk and Man of the Family, writes a fast-moving, absorbing tale that conveys the difficulties of life a century ago as well as the pluck of a brave young boxer. The fight action here, as well as Johnny's determination to make something of himself and take care of his family, will engage readers. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sunburst, 169p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Set in 1885, this atmospheric historical novel tells the story of 15-year-old Johnny Woods and his struggle to rescue his mother and five siblings from a life of miserable poverty on New York City's Lower East Side. Seeing no solution in the meager wages he earns in the sweatshops, Johnny turns to boxing. A natural born fighter with fierce determination and an explosive temper, he ends up incarcerated in New York City's infamous "Tombs" after an illegal public boxing bout. While there, Johnny meets a man named O'Shaunnessey, who trains him to become a professional boxer and takes on the role of his absentee father. Once paroled, O'Shaunnessey helps the teen build his career and eventually earn enough money to move his family to a better life in Brooklyn. At the novel's end, the protagonist contemplates leaving the violent sport behind and completing his education. Karr does an admirable job of creating a vivid sense of time and place. Besides all of the interesting details about boxing, there are plenty of descriptions of the economic and social conditions of the day. The ringside action is quite exciting. The characters are also well developed, particularly Johnny, who matures in the course of the story. A wonderful blend of fascinating history and compelling drama.- Edward Sullivan, Langston Hughes Library, Clinton, TN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In 1880s New York, a young lad with inadequate means but an abundance of character uses his head, heart, and fists to battle his way out of the tenements. Johnny Woods works 12 hours a day at a sweatshop ironing men's shirts. Since his father deserted his mother and five younger brothers and sisters, this 15-year-old youngster has valiantly toiled to help put bread on the table. Desperate for some extra cash, he signs up to box in a bar, only to get arrested—fighting was then illegal—and thrown into prison. In an unexpected twist, it's the best thing that ever happened to him. There he meets Michael O'Shaunnessey, "Professor of the Science of Boxing," and a "born teacher." Returning home fit and trained, Johnny finds a paucity of job opportunities for politically unconnected and uneducated youths like himself, except in the boxing ring. There he soon piles up an impressive string of victories. Hard-working and kind, Johnny returns to school, spending his meager spare time with his five siblings, giving them by turn the treat of his undivided attention. Karr's first-person narrative is fast-paced and instantly engrossing, and she captures her character's dreams and dilemmas as well as the rhythm and excitement of the boxing matches, and the scenes, scents, and squalor of tenement life. Although Johnny is a little too good to be true, readers should be rooting for the kid with the killer punch and the soul of a Boy Scout both in and out of the ring. (Fiction. 12+)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

From The Boxer

Brought it on my own head, I had. My ma's always been after me not to fight. But what's a little fellow like me meant to do? Seems like there's always been someone after me for one thing or the other, always been someone bigger. Tonight had just seemed like a reasonable solution to a lot of things. Tonight in the room behind Brodie's Saloon. Just my luck Brodie was behind on his payoffs. Just my luck New York City's finest picked tonight for a raid. I twisted up a little tighter, trying not to let too much of me touch the filthy mattress. The bruises from Brodie's back room began to throb. Everywhere, it felt like. I closed my eyes and tried not to breathe the cell's loathsome air.

Where had I gone wrong?

Meet the Author

Kathleen Karr is the author of several books, including The Great Turkey Walk, which was named a Best Book of the Year by both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. She lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

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