Fighting Ruben Wolfe

Fighting Ruben Wolfe

by Markus Zusak

View All Available Formats & Editions

Cameron and Ruben Wolfe come from a family clinging to the ragged edge of the working class. To make money, the boys hook up with a sleazy fight promoter who sees something marketable in the untrained brothers' vulnerability. But the Wolfe brothers are fighting for more than tips and pay-off money. It soon becomes a fight for identity, for dignity, and for each


Cameron and Ruben Wolfe come from a family clinging to the ragged edge of the working class. To make money, the boys hook up with a sleazy fight promoter who sees something marketable in the untrained brothers' vulnerability. But the Wolfe brothers are fighting for more than tips and pay-off money. It soon becomes a fight for identity, for dignity, and for each other.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Cameron and Ruben Wolfe are survivors. Living day to day with their family in a working-class home in Australia, the two brothers look for purpose in the mundane. After pursuing a series of bad ideas inspired by hours of watching the horror of bad television -- including selling a broken hair dryer to their neighbor and going to the race track -- the boys are tempted by a fairly intriguing offer. A local fight promoter sees potential in the duo, even though they have no pugilistic experience other than boxing in the backyard. That matters very little to Perry Cole -- he wants to offer them as fresh meat to the very eager crowd of locals hungry for a good, and often bloody, fight.

After agreeing to sign up with the sleazy Cole with the stated reason of using the money to help their parents with the bills, Cameron and Ruben begin training. Cameron is less enthusiastic and does not have the drive that his brother seems to possess. Ruben is intent on winning, on making a name for himself. His first fight evokes in him a sense of purpose and power.

This outstanding story not only introduces the reader to the daily lives of two brothers but also to the inner struggle of the working class and the inherent nature of man. Cameron consistently feels like the lesser man in regard to his brother, both in the ring and with women. The brothers' nightly talks offer an even closer glimpse into the psyche of the two boys. Going from roughhousing brothers to marketable fighters, Cameron and Ruben stick with each other through it all. Cameron's insightful and touching remarks on their relationship and the dynamic of the family holds the reader's interest just as much as the boxing drama. When the two end up in the ring fighting each other, due to Cole's machinations, it is an epic fight of brotherhood against the world.

Author Markus Zusak has written the ultimate story of struggle, hope, and family. Brotherhood and boxing lay the groundwork for serious life decisions and a sudden reality check. Fighting Ruben Wolfe is an inspiration, and young readers are sure to connect with the familial and personal dilemmas of two brothers just looking for a way out.

--Amy Barkat

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In earthy, working-class dialect, Australian novelist Zusak offers a lot of sports action as well as a sensitive inspection of sibling relationships and family pride. Times are tough for the Wolfe family now that Mr. Wolfe, a plumber, has been injured on the job ("He's half a man, because it seems that when a man can't work and when his wife and kids earn all the money, a man becomes half a man"). While narrator Cameron tends to keep his family's troubles locked inside, his brother Ruben lashes out with his fists. So, when a classmate taunts the boys with a derogatory remark about their sister, who has been "gettin' around a bit," Ruben pummels him. News of the fight spreads, and, a few days later, Ruben and Cameron, who has "heart" ("People throw money into the ring corners if they think you've got heart," says the organizer), are invited to participate in illegal boxing matches. Through Cameron's voice and observations of everything from family dinners to fights to dog races, Zusak compellingly relates how the two brothers respond differently to internal and external conflicts. While Cameron lives in fear, Ruben grows increasingly hardened. The moment of truth comes when Cameron and Ruben are forced to meet each other in the ring. It's a somewhat overneat ending to an often provocative book. Ages 10-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
In earthy working-class dialect, Australian novelist Zusak offers a lot of boxing action as well as a sensitive inspection of sibling relationship and family pride, wrote PW. Ages 13-up. (June) n Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This is a working-class story from Australia, about brothers who get a chance to box on the weekends, earning money in a household without much money, getting a taste of what it feels like to be respected. Of course, they have to hide the boxing from their parents, who don't want them to get hurt. The boys' father has been injured and is out of work; but he is too proud to accept welfare, so the family struggles to keep going, trying to maintain some dignity. Fighting Ruben Wolfe ultimately is about fighting to survive a dismal life, to have respect—fighting to be strong enough to face failure. The narrator is the younger brother, Cameron, who never is as good a fighter as his brother Ruben. But, Cameron keeps on struggling even when he loses, and he can pick himself up after a loss; Ruben, on the other hand, has never lost a fight and fears losing more than anything else. The title comes from this conflict: Ruben fighting against his own fears. This story will appeal to male readers, especially those who like action and understand the kind of closeness perhaps only brothers can know—a closeness that may not be expressed in so many words, but is there in loyalty and secrecy and special memories and special ties. The Australian milieu is different, of course, for US readers, and the boxing set-up isn't the same as the boxing stories set in the US, such as Lipsyte's The Contender, but the raw male strength and the drive to prove physical courage transcends cultural boundaries. Zusak is a writer who combines male grit with a kind of driving poetry in his prose. Many pages are formatted like poetry, so readers put off by a lot of words on a page won't flinch at these 217 pages.I note that Chris Crutcher is quoted on the back cover: "Ruggedly poetic. This guy is one hell of a writer." KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Scholastic, 217p, $15.95. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
Zusak paints a gritty but poignant story of two working-class brothers and their family in an unnamed section of urban England. Cameron and Ruben Wolfe spend their time at the dog races when they are not in school or hanging out with their friends. Since his accident, the elder Wolfe has not been able to work or support his family. His pride prevents him from going on the "dole" (welfare) or accepting money from any of his children. That same pride simultaneously holds the family together and pulls it apart. The brothers are given the opportunity to make money and a name for themselves when a shady boxing promoter hires them to fight in illegal boxing matches. Ruben is the naturally talented fighter whose fierce determination to win hardens him into an unfeeling machine. Cameron, although less successful, manages to hold onto his compassion, giving him the appeal of his fight name, "the Underdog." The tension-filled climax is satisfactorily resolved when the boys must face each other in their final match and reveal their secret to their parents. Zusak's language is sparse, poetic, and sometimes humorous with a little profanity and sometimes confusing British slang. Script typeface is used when the boys review the events of the day in the calm of their tiny bedroom, a jarring technique because it is not clear why the typeface has been changed. Zusak uses vivid imagery to relay the innermost thoughts of the characters. Cameron describes his nervousness as "fingers of fear and doubt scratching the lining of my stomach." In spite of some inconsistencies, this enjoyable and entertaining book will appeal to high school students. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P S (Readable without serious defects; Broadgeneral YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 176p, . Ages 16 to 18. Reviewer: Brenda Moses-Allen SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
Children's Literature
Boxing has always been an underdog's game, and this story of two struggling Australian brothers in an anonymous city keeps well within that tradition. Fighting Ruben Wolfe is the ring moniker given to the older brother when he and younger brother/ narrator, Cameron, are pulled into the underground fight world. The story floats around the theme of boxing, and Cameron's ring fright is well-expressed, but the action is more psychological than physical. It is really about two young men trying to find the initiative to rise above their blue collar family of unemployed father, overworked mother, and big sister on the verge of slutdom. Zusak's prose is tight, tough and idiomatic, and occasionally borders on the poetic. 2001, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-The Wolfe family has more than its share of problems. Injured in a plumbing accident, the father is unemployed. The mother works extra jobs to help make ends meet. Sister Sarah is an alcoholic. Eldest brother Steve keeps himself emotionally distanced from everyone as he bides his time waiting for an opportunity to escape. Cameron and Ruben are close, almost inseparable, supporting one another. Despite their hardships, the Wolfes maintain a steadfast pride and determination to survive. The story, narrated by Cameron, centers on his relationship with Ruben, who is everything the younger sibling wants to be but is not. Looking to make a financial contribution to the family, the boys encounter a shady boxing promoter who convinces them to fight for money. Aggressive Ruben, who enjoys a good altercation anyway, is enthusiastic. For him, boxing is a way to prove himself. Cameron is petrified, but he goes along with his brother. Predictably, the two brothers face one another in the ring in a climactic scene in which Cameron confronts his feelings about Ruben and himself. Fighting Ruben Wolfe has an intriguing premise that is never fully realized. The characters are only superficially developed, as are the dynamics among the other family members. It is difficult to care about the characters or their situations, and the lack of resolution at the end will leave readers disappointed. A novel that begins with promise but never makes it past the first round.-Edward Sullivan, Langston Hughes Library, Clinton, TN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.81(w) x 8.57(h) x 0.84(d)
460L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

It's Friday evening and we're watching Wheel of Fortune. It's rare for us to watch a lot of TV because we're usually fighting, doing something stupid in the backyard, or hanging around out front. Besides, we hate most of the crap on the telly anyway. The only good thing about it is that sometimes when you watch it, you can get a bright idea. Previous bright ideas we've had in the midst of TV are:
Attempting to rob a dentist.
Moving the small lounge table up onto the couch so we could play football against each other with a rolled-up pair of socks.
Going to the dog track for the first time.
Selling Sarah's busted old hair dryer to one of our neighbors for fifteen dollars.
Selling Rube's broken tape player to a guy down the street.
Selling the telly.

Obviously, we could never carry out all of the good ideas.

The dentist was a disaster (we pulled out, of course). Playing football with the socks resulted in giving Sarah a fat lip when she walked through the lounge room. (I swear it was Rube's elbow and not mine that hit her.) The dog track was fun (even though we came back twelve bucks poorer than when we left). The hair-dryer was thrown back over the fence with a note attached that said, Give us back our fifteen bucks or we'll bloody kill you, you cheating bastards. (We gave the money back the next day.) We couldn't end up finding the tape player (and the guy down the street was pretty tight anyway so I doubt we'd have got much for it). Then, last of all, there was just no way we could ever sell the TV, even though I came up with eleven good reasons why we should give the telly the chop. (They go like this:
One. In ninety-nine percent of shows, the good guys win in the end, which just isn't the truth. I mean, let's face if. In real life, the bastards win. They get all the girls, all the cash, all the everything. Two. Whenever there's a sex scene, everything goes perfectly, when really, the people in the shows should be as scared of it as me. Three. There are a thousand ads. Four. The ads are always much louder than the actual shows. Five. The news is always kind of depressing. Six. The people are all beautiful. Seven. All the best shows get the ax. For example, Northern Exposure. Have you heard of it? No? Exactly -- it got the ax years ago. Eight. Rich blokes own all the stations. Nine. The rich blokes own beautiful women as well. Ten. The reception can be a bit of a shocker at our place anyway because our aerial's shot. Eleven. They keep showing repeats of a show called Gladiators.)

The only question now is, What's today's idea? The truth is, it's more of a decision to conclude on last night, as Rube speaks over at me. He starts with an "Oi."

"Oi," he says.


"What are your thoughts?"

"On what?"

"You know what. Perry."

"We need the money."

"I know, but Mum and Dad won't let us help pay the bills."

"Yeah, but we can hold our own end up --pay our own food and stuff so everything lasts longer."

"Yeah, I s'pose."

Then Rube says it

It's decided.



He speaks the words, "We're gonna do it."


Only, we know we won't pay our own food. No. We have no intention. We're doing this for some other reason. Some other reason that wants inside us.

Now we have to wait till Monday so we can ring Perry Cole, but already, we have to think -- about everything. About other guys' fists. About the danger. About Mum and Dad finding out. About survival. A new world has arrived in our minds and we have to handle it. We have decided and there is no time to stick our tail between our legs and run. We've decided in front of the telly and that means we have to give it a shot. If we succeed, good. If we fail, it's nothing new.

Rube's thinking about it, I can tell.

Personally, I try not to.

I try to focus on the woman's brilliant legs on Wheel of Fortune. When she swivels the letters, I can see more of them, just before she turns around and smiles at me. She smiles pretty, and in that split second, I forget. I forget about Perry Cole and all those future punches. It makes me wonder, Do we spend most of our days trying to remember or forget things? Do we spend most of out time running toward or away from our lives? I don't know.

"Who y' goin' for?" Rube interrupts my thoughts, looking at the TV.

"I d' know."


"Okay then." I point. "I'll take the dopey one in the middle."

"That's the host, y' idiot."

"Is it? Well I'll take the blond one there on the end. She looks the goods."

"I[ll take the guy on the other end. The one who looks like he just escaped from Long Bay Jail. His suit's a dead-set outrage. It's a dis-grace."

In the end it's the guy from Long Bay that wins. He gets a vacuum cleaner and has already won a trip to the Great Wall of China, from yesterday apparently. Not bad. The trip, that is. In the champion round, he misses out on a ridiculous remote control bed. In all honesty, the only thing keeping us watching is to see the woman turning the letters. I like her legs and so does Rube.

We watch.

We forget.

We know.

We know that on Monday we'll be ringing Perry Cole to tell him we're in.

"We better start training then," I tell Rube.

"I know."

Mum comes home. We don't know where Dad is.

Mum takes the compost out to the heap in the backyard.

Upon returning she says, "Something really stinks out there near the back fence. Do either of you know anything about it?"

We look at each other. "No."

"Are you sure?"

"Well," I crack under the pressure. "It was a few onions that were in our room that we forgot about. That's all."

Mum isn't surprised. She never is anymore. I think she actually accepts our stupidity as something she just can't change. Yet she still asks the question. "What were they doing in your room?" However, she walks away. I don't think she really wants to hear the answer.

When Dad arrives, we don't ask where he's been.

Steve comes in and gives us a shock by saying, "How y' goin', lads?"

"All right. You?"

"Good." Even though he still watches Dad with contempt, wishing he'd get the dole or Job Search payments or whatever you please to call it. He soon changes clothes and goes out.

Sarah comes in eating a banana Paddlepop. She smiles and gives us both a bite. We don't ask for one, but she knows. She can see our snouts itching for the gorgeous sickly cold of an iceblock in winter.

Next day, Rube and I begin training.

We get up early and run. It's dark when the alarm goes off and we take a minute or two to get out of bed, but once out, we're okay. We run together in track pants and old football jerseys and the city is awake and smoky-cold and our heartbeats jangle through the streets. We're alive. Our footsteps are folded neatly, one after the other. Rube's curly hair collides with sunlight. The light steps at us between the buildings. The train line is fresh and sweet and the grass in Belmore Park has the echoes of dew still on it. Our hands are cold. Our veins are warm. Our throats suck in the winter breath of the city, and I imagine people still in bed, dreaming. To me, it feels good. Good city. Good world, with two wolves running through it, looking for the fresh meat of their lives. Chasing it. Chasing hard, even though they fear it. They run anyway.

"Y' awake, Rube?"


"Jeez, I'm a bit sore, ay. This runnin' in the mornings isn't much chop for the ol' legs."

"I know -- mine are sore too."

"It felt good but."

"Yeah. It felt great."

"It felt like I'm not sure what. Like we've finally got something. Something to give us -- I d' know. I just don't know."



"Purpose," Rube continues. "We've finally got a reason to be here. We've got reason to be out on that street. We're not just out there doin' nothin'."

"That's it. That's exactly how it felt."

"I know."

"But I'm still sore as hell."

"Me too."

"So are we still runnin' again tomorrow?"


"Good." And in the darkness of our room, a smile reaches across my lips. I feel it.

Meet the Author

Markus Zusak is the award-winning author of The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger, both Michael L. Printz Honor Books. Markus Zusak's writing career began in high school, where he led a "pretty internal existence. . . . I always had stories in my head. So I started writing them." He lives with his wife and two children in Sydney, Australia, where he is currently working on his new novel Bridge of Clay.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >