by Michael Cadnum

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A teenage boxer learns how to fight dirty—in and out of the ring

As soon as the bell chimes, Steven knows he’s in trouble. Del Toro is stronger, faster, and in better shape; he’s by far the better boxer. But Steven has been learning to fight dirty. He steps on Del Toro’s toes, whips his head into the bigger man’s chin, and…  See more details below


A teenage boxer learns how to fight dirty—in and out of the ring

As soon as the bell chimes, Steven knows he’s in trouble. Del Toro is stronger, faster, and in better shape; he’s by far the better boxer. But Steven has been learning to fight dirty. He steps on Del Toro’s toes, whips his head into the bigger man’s chin, and throws a straight right just wide enough to send his elbow crashing into his nose. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t honest, but it works. In the boxing ring, and in life, Steven is never afraid to cheat.
Invited to San Diego for a prestigious Golden Gloves West Coast tournament, Steven needs $600 to make the trip. A friend convinces him to get the money the easy way—by robbing a liquor store, and Steven soon learns there are fights where throwing in the towel means death.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This psychological portrait of an amateur boxer contains as many dark ironies as Cadnum's earlier thrillers (Heat; Edge), but the narrative here is marred by thick foreshadowing and uneven pacing. Narrator Steven lays out his vulnerabilities right away. His "temporarily" separated parents will probably never get back together, and his best friend, Raymond, has started hanging out with a juvenile delinquent named Chad. To make matters worse, Steven loses his job as a dishwasher. The only thing that Steven can count on is his ability to box, although he needs money as well as prowess in order to compete. Predictably, when Steven is given a chance to enter the Golden Gloves West Coast tournament in San Diego (costing $600 in travel expenses and entry fees), he lets Raymond and Chad lead him into crime. But the boys' plan to rob a liquor store goes awry, and Steven finds himself involved in the most profound fight of his life. Readers, especially those familiar with the author's other works, may be too aware of the hand guiding characters' actions to be able to lose themselves in the plot. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Steven has the chance to compete as an amateur boxer. First, though, he has to prove himself a worthy contestant in the ring. He must show that he can dodge the blows, keep dancing to elude his opponent, and deliver a solid performance. The skills that Steven must develop in the ring also are crucial to his survival in the world outside of the gym. There Steven faces several opponents, including Raymond, a supposed friend. The deadliest opponent, however, might be Chad, an acquaintance of Raymond's who wants Steven to join him in a daring adventure. Cadnum pulls no punches in his latest offering. The pace of the novel is deliciously languid. Readers will feel as if they are watching a boxing match in slow motion as Steven agonizes over his situation. The decisions he makes, though, are swift. Steven is, after all, a good boxer, able to think on his feet, to escape trouble by using both his head and his hands. Steven does just that in a chilling chapter that will have readers alternately averting their eyes from the inevitable while rooting for Steven to do the right thing in an impossible situation. The title refers to the red gloves that Steven wears in the ring, but it certainly has other layers of meaning. Those teens who appreciate the work of Chris Crutcher and Chris Lynch will find that this new Cadnum book delivers a similar knockout punch. It is no mere sports book, although the boxing scenes will ring true for aficionados of the sport. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Viking, 176p, $15.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: TeriLesesne

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

Children's Literature
Steven wants to be a boxer and has potential for going to the Junior Olympics. First he must prove himself in San Diego, but he needs money to get there. His father can barely cover the rent and his mother is off saving the environment and writing a dissertation. He could have continued his minimum-wage dishwashing job, but he refused to apologize when he was caught goofing off. He could go with his mother and work in his grandparent's business, but not be close to his trainer. Or, he can let his best friend, Raymond, introduce him to Chad. Even though they know Chad is bad news, the three of them plan a robbery. Steven is uneasy and wonders why he can't say no but continues to help with the arrangements. Will Steven go through with it? There is a policeman in front of the fast-food store so the boys decide not to rob it, but instead Chad grabs a stranded female and shoots her. The ending is abrupt and open-ended, leaving the reader wondering what will happen to Steven. This book would be good for discussions about making the right choices and how situations can quickly escalate to tragedy. 2000, Viking, 15.99. Ages 14 to 18. Reviewer: Janet L. Rose
Stephen enjoys testing himself in the boxing ring, and he wants to fight in the Golden Gloves tournament in San Diego, if he can get together money for the travel expenses and the registration fees. He can't depend on his charming but unreliable musician father, or on his absent mother, off working on her Ph.D. in animal biology. So when Stephen's friend Raymond offers to introduce him to Chad, an angry, streetwise older teenager with a plan for getting money quickly, Stephen agrees. Chad is scary but impressive, and Stephen finds himself wanting Chad to like him. Chad has a plan to rob a store, and Raymond and Stephen go along with him, on condition that no one will get hurt. Then Chad takes out a gun, and when the store robbery doesn't come off, he unexpectedly kidnaps a woman waiting by a stalled car on the freeway, and shoots her. Will Stephen do the right thing? The multiple meanings of the title come into play as the situation explodes in a violent climax. Reminiscent of the work of Robert Cormier, this presents a bleak, brutal world in which Stephen must fight to survive. Action fans will enjoy the detailed boxing scenes, and readers will understand both how Stephen gets swept up in Chad's plans and his revulsion at Chad's actions. A swift and exciting read. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Penguin Putnam/Viking, 136p, 99-087652, $15.99. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Boxing is the most important thing in Steven's life, and he knows that with the right break, it will be his ticket to getting everything he wants. The teen sees his chance when a big boxing tournament is opened up for newcomers. Unfortunately, entry requires a hefty fee, which he doesn't have. When he is introduced to Chad, he sees another opportunity to get the cash he needs. Recently released from jail, Chad is street-smart and tough and convinces Steven he can get the money if he is willing to take the risk. The plan to rob some local businesses goes awry, however, when Chad grabs a woman and ends up shooting her. Steven realizes he has done the wrong thing and uses his boxing skills to bring Chad down. The story ends with an ambiguous but hopeful scene with the protagonist standing over the wounded woman and the sirens of police cars fast approaching. Cadnum's prose is typically raw and taut, but this occasionally gripping narrative is in need of fine-tuning. Steven's sudden, intense moral struggle is too abrupt and brief to be entirely believable. Equally difficult to appreciate is the teen's decision to turn to crime. The author's typically masterful ability to craft compelling stories with great psychological depth is not evident here. The characters are not fully developed and the narrative is rushed. Too many leaps in logic and gaps in credibility will leave readers ultimately dissatisfied.-Edward Sullivan, Langston Hughes Library, Clinton, TN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A dreary, detached tale of a promising young boxer with a little too much testosterone. Readers will wince at the pounding Steven takes in practice rounds, but the gym's owner offers to enter him in the upcoming West Coast Golden Gloves tournament—if he can come up with the fees and airfare. No problem, Steven claims, though he's just quit his job, his pianist father can barely make ends meet, and he's too proud to ask his estranged mother, or her parents, for help. An alternative presents itself; his friend Raymond, always eager to stir things up, has been touting a new acquaintance, Chad, who has a brother in stir and a questionable reputation. Chad turns out to be big, tough, and obviously bad news. After a certain amount of roosterish posturing, Steven finds himself with Chad and Raymond cruising Oakland in a car that is most likely stolen, nerving themselves to knock off a store—" ‘It would work, if you did it right. It would be easy,' " Steven tells himself. Then Chad casually pulls a handgun out of the glove compartment, upping the stakes. In the end, the robbery doesn't come off, but Chad has worked himself into such a state that he suddenly snatches, clubs, and shoots a stranded motorist. Though Steven knocks Chad out before he can kill her outright, readers won't need the final sound of approaching sirens to know that trouble's coming. Cadnum (The Edge, 1997, etc.) captures something of the thrill his characters feel pushing themselves to the edge, but Steven is a distant narrator, so seldom forthcoming about his reactions that, though the boxing action is vivid, the rest of his life seems colorless, beyond evenRaymond'slove/hate relationship with risky behavior to animate. Above average, but not equal to the author's best work. (Fiction. YA)

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Open Road Media Teen & Tween
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By Michael Cadnum


Copyright © 2000 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1978-1


From the beginning he was too fast for me.

I tried to hit Del Toro, trudging after him with an unsteady, dancing bear gait while he shuffled and shimmied all over the boxing ring, flicking out his red-leather fists now and then, like he was warming up all by himself and I wasn't even there.

Then he started to hurt me. He jabbed hard, but I slipped some of his left-handed lightning. Several times I jerked my head to one side, so I caught the power on my ear, but after about a minute of this he started to time my head bobs.

He faked a punch and paused as I ducked to my left. I met the glove with my face and saw a vicious flare of light.

I almost dropped my hands right then, turned to Coach Loquesto, and said, I can't do this.

I was breathing hard, with that used-up, sour feeling in my lungs that comes from tense fatigue. Del Toro jabbed and then hooked to the body with the same smooth series of movements, without having to back off and set his feet. His left glove pounded all of Coach Loquesto's box-by-the-book lessons out of my head.

I shot a look to my corner, Raymond watching the fight sideways, like he couldn't stand to see it straight on. I had spent hours sparring with Raymond in his dad's garage, and he was the friend who had encouraged me to spend the last half year on punches and footwork.

I tried a technique I had picked up after hours, listening to the veteran amateurs, the postal clerks and carpenters who liked to box for the same reason some guys like to drink. They traded stories, half joking, half serious, how to cheat. I stepped on my opponent's white, pristine boxing shoes. I planted my right foot on his left, and leaned hard. I could feel his foot bones flatten out under the sudden weight. I heaved my left glove into his ribs and plowed forward like a football lineman, catching him in the chin with my shoulder.

He gave a little grunt, a likable, animal noise, like a very large dog lying down full of weariness. He gunned a combination up into my mouth, two staccato uppercuts, and danced away — far away, his legs a blur. He gave himself a little tap with one glove, adjusting the compact Everlast headgear and also showing me how to hit him in the head.

It's easy, he was saying. He flicked himself again with the oversized sixteen-ounce glove, daring me to plant a punch right there in the middle of his forehead.

Raymond was leaning into the ring, both arms on the canvas. His hands lifted in a classic beseeching pose, be careful.

I was gulping air, not even remotely in physical shape for this kind of workout. "I'm going to let you go three rounds with someone good," Loquesto had said, marking in my name with the squeaky black felt-tip he used, the Magic Marker ink smelling like rubbing alcohol.

I slogged after Del Toro, and he did a cute sashay to glide way out of the reach of my glove. So I pumped my fist at him, not bothering to close my glove, trying to stick my thumb in his eye. He whipped a right cross at the side of my head. It landed, a punch I saw coming, and which my head rose to meet as though drawn to it by hypnotic suggestion. The blow momentarily paralyzed the right side of my face.

I continued to try to fight dirty, my body angled so Mr. Monday couldn't see what I was doing. Not because I disliked Lorenzo Del Toro, but because it seemed like all I could do, ashamed to be losing so badly. I dug my glove laces into his cheek, forcing them hard into his skin, and then when he recoiled, I trudged after him and gripped the ropes. I hung on with determination, using the ropes to pull myself toward him, into him, bearing against him with my whole body, ashamed that I had to fight like this.

By now the gym was going quiet, the echoing voices and the drumroll speed bag all falling still as people wandered over, aware that Del Toro was feeding me combinations, fast and mad.

Not out-of-control angry, but cold-pissed, his right hand cocked and ready to finish me while he painted me with his left. My mouthpiece got that raw-steak flavor you get when you're bleeding from the lips.

When the timekeeper called out, "Thirty seconds," I head-butted Del Toro in a style that belonged in a book of its own, a classic illegal maneuver, head down, bulling into his chest, and then up with a snap.

Even cushioned with the headpiece, the blow hurt me, the point of his jaw outlined in the nerves of my scalp. I knew it did him harm. I then threw a classic cheat, one that it's impossible for a referee to fault you on, even when he sees it happen.

I feinted with my left just to set the foul up properly and make it look like an honest bit of boxing strategy, and I put all my strength into a straight right.

The straight right is a dream punch, one you rarely get to land because most opponents see you set it up. You get your feet just the way you want them, and stride into the punch, driving your gloved knuckles through your opponent's guard.

But in this case, I never really intended to hit him with the glove.

My punch missed on purpose, went straight by him. My elbow slammed into his nose, and I felt the gristle buckle. Guys watching called out a half-admiring, half-protesting, "Oh, man!" The man stretched out, the single word taking on the meaning: did you see that?

Del Toro put the heel of his glove on my face in the clinch — a little dirty combat of his own — and Mr. Monday, assistant coach and referee, was suddenly a presence in our fight, like a man who had just arrived. He pulled us apart, his hands slipping off our sweaty arms as the timekeeper rang the bell.

I wanted to enjoy this moment.

The round was over and I could stay as I was, expending no effort, except to disguise my weariness. I even gave that little wave that means this guy is nothing, a gesture wasted on Del Toro, whose back was turned.

I waddled, heavy and stiff-legged from the exertion, and leaned against the ropes in my corner while Raymond squirted water on my mouthpiece, washing off the pink glue all over it.

"Well, you're still alive," said Raymond.

The small crowd around the ring parted as Loquesto made his way up to the ring apron, some of the spectators, with white towels on their shoulders or baseball caps on backward, acting out my head butt, my elbow punch, all of them eager to see if Loquesto would keep the fight from continuing, disqualifying me for fighting dirty.


This practice bout was scheduled to go two more rounds, but you could see Mr. Monday stroll over to the ropes, awaiting instructions from Loquesto to tell me to go take a shower.

Loquesto came over to me in his black sweater and his black, sharp-creased pants, looked over Raymond's shoulder right into my eyes and asked, "Holding up okay, Steven?"

"Great," I said, all I could manage, I was breathing so hard. I didn't want to meet his eyes.

He shouldered Raymond to one side and took my headpiece in his hands, forcing me eye to eye. "You're better than this," he said.

I shrugged one shoulder.

"If you don't show some class, you'll never make it to San Diego."

The Golden Gloves West Coast tournament was a month away, at the San Diego fairgrounds. If I could muscle up my boxing skills and get the registration fees and traveling money together, I had a chance at something big.

I let my gaze slide off his. But I gave a nod.

Loquesto sauntered across the canvas, and you could see him engaging in a silent laugh with Del Toro and his handlers, two older brothers with experience in the Junior Olympics, muscular middleweights. Loquesto gave a nod to Mr. Monday, a gray-haired, ebony-skinned man who always looked like he was listening to a ball game in his head, a playoff, his team way ahead.

Raymond is a short, thin guy, not quick enough on his feet to be much of a boxer. Raymond is the sort of person who might talk the two of us into climbing into the grizzly bear habitat at the zoo, and then cringe at the edge of the lair in real horror. He has a crave/disgust relationship with risk.

The rest period between rounds is always over before you know it. Andy, the timekeeper, hit the brass bell with the little wooden hammer that had been used for that very purpose since they began boxing in Franklin Gym sixty years ago. I rose to my feet off the wooden stool feeling that some mistake had been made — a minute could not have passed so quickly.

Maybe Del Toro wanted to buy a few seconds, too. He did that funny little hitch some boxers do, pulling up his boxing trunks even though with your hands wrapped and encased in padding you can't get much of a grip. His trunks still sagged a little, his pads exposed, bright pink kidney guards peeking out.

Mr. Monday called time-out. Del Toro glanced down, hitched at his belt, stopped and wrestled with his shiny blue trunks. Mr. Monday shook his head and stepped in front of him, grabbed his trunks, and gave them a tug upward, a valet adjusting a gentleman's suit. The crowd was patient, a couple of hand claps.

The entire gym wanted to know what would happen next.

So did I, and I didn't necessarily like the feeling.

Del Toro was adjusting his mouthpiece, giving himself a preparatory tap on the headpiece, the guy suddenly a mess of nervous tics. I walked across the ring. I dangled my arms, shrugged my shoulders, worked my head from side to side. Everything that happens in the ring is a contest, and I was intent on winning this beauty pageant, which of us looked most at ease.

Del Toro circled and was saying something around his mouthpiece, scuffing the flat, treadless surface of his boxing shoes on some water droplets Raymond had left on the canvas in front of my corner.

Mr. Monday observed this, and he called time-out again while Raymond leaped into the ring and wiped the canvas with a Bay Linen Supply towel.

The next few mental snapshots passed too quickly.

Raymond took a month blotting up the water, powder-puffing the dark patches on the canvas with a resin bag. He looked up and smiled hopefully, letting me know he was stalling, giving me a few more seconds of respite.

"Excellent job, Raymond," said Mr. Monday. He used to be a PE teacher at Merritt College, and even in semi-retirement you'd see him showing people how to fold towels, or set up a row of folding chairs, with a habitually encouraging air.

Del Toro threw a combination, far away from me, a practice one-two.

The next instant he hit me hard, I don't know with what hand.

Or how he leaped from several paces away, an opponent exactly my weight, but built like a real boxer, with a torso that looked too heavy with muscle to match those thin, deft legs.

I was hit. I understood that much.

And then, as I reviewed what had just been happening, I tried to convince myself that I had slipped on some of Raymond's water. I thought hard. I had been hit with a right cross, it was the only logical explanation. I was down.

On the canvas, my legs folded, like I was waiting to roast marshmallows.

I assembled myself, bone by bone, and when I was on my feet I became aware of Mr. Monday's count. "Seven," he said, holding out several fingers. "Eight," he said, methodically, looking over toward Loquesto, ready to stop it.

I jumped up and down, and said something, "I'm okay" coming out like caveman language around the mouthpiece.

"Suck it up, Beech," said one of the older men, a man in his thirties who used the gym as a workout establishment. "Hit him in the face, Steve," said one of the fourteen-year-olds. Nobody who knows me calls me Steve.

But I absorbed the sound of this, people cheering for me. I liked it. Del Toro ran a glove over the top of his head, dug a left hook to my ribs, and another one, punches that shook me. We clinched. I hung on hard, climbed into him, pinning his arms, bulling him back toward the ropes.

I landed a couple of rapid-fire combo, lefts and rights. You could hear the crowd suck air in surprise and pleasure. It looks pretty, when you do it right.

We wrestled, Del Toro needing a recess. I felt Mr. Monday's shadow over me, and heard his breath, his teeth gritting together as he forced an arm between us, like a man reaching into the back shelf of a closet.

Mr. Monday said, like a man very mildly irritated with two little children, "I told you to break."

I hadn't heard him, and neither had Del Toro. Del Toro offered an apology with his eyes, his brows uplifted, and I held out a hand in a half-wave, both of us suddenly the picture of boxing manners.

Mr. Monday gave a signal, bringing invisible cymbals together, flat-handed: keep going.

But Del Toro and I circled, breathing deeply, buying a few seconds before we dived in.


"Good rounds," said Del Toro.

It was a hundred years later, and it was over, all three rounds of it. I let the mouthpiece fall out of my mouth, followed by a long splash of drool.

"Great rounds," I agreed, sounding like a talking dog.

Del Toro gave me a gentle, crablike embrace, his gloves impeding us as we hugged around the middle of our bodies, and slung an arm over each other's shoulders, as though someone was going to take our picture. He was panting, bleeding a little from his nose, but his respiration was already starting to level off. I felt dizzy, my breath sawing in and out of my body.

No one had a camera, and the crowd was already turning away, clapping with the perfunctory, cheery politeness of people with other things to do, the fight over, life losing much of its gloss. A few of them looking back to say something in Spanish to Del Toro, giving me a thumbs-up.

Coach Loquesto nodded at me, several silent up-and-downs of his head, like he was agreeing with a point I was making. I wasn't saying anything. I sidled my way through the entourage of a flyweight twenty-seven-year-old and his friends waiting to take their turn.

I felt great.

I showered and used some of the Alfred Dunhill aftershave Raymond had stolen from a department store — or so he claimed — twenty dollars an ounce unless you have smart hands. I laced on my street shoes, my hands feeling puffy and clumsy, while Raymond took random blows at the lockers with a knotted towel. When he struck a locker too loudly he flinched, and gave the metal surface a gentle swipe.

Raymond was saying that I could have killed Del Toro, if we met in the street. I let him talk for a while, Raymond tough now that it was over. Raymond was always yelling encouragement at his favorite team on TV, and then covering his eyes, afraid to look. We both felt excited by the fact I had survived three rounds with a fighter who had fought on amateur cards in Richmond and Modesto.

"I guess Chad couldn't make it," said Raymond.

"Better things to do," I said.

Chad was someone new in recent weeks, someone Raymond had bragged about, his new friend, the guy who'd been in jail. With an older brother in prison on a felony murder charge, Chad sounded like trouble. Raymond said Chad bragged about shooting a homeless guy down by Fruitvale Avenue, emptying a clip into him, but I didn't believe it.

"Chad missed a good fight," said Raymond.

Raymond's enthusiasm for things tended to win me over. He had introduced me to Loquesto, saying that the former light heavyweight was supposed to be a living legend, a real boxing expert, and now he wanted to introduce me to a new friend who was a criminal.

I could wait.

But I was teased by curiosity, and maybe a little jealousy. Chad and Raymond had been seen hanging around the Subway Sandwich place on MacArthur, fellow boxers reporting to me that Raymond's new friend was big. That's all anyone would say: "He's a big guy," like there was something else no one could bring themselves to tell me, how much trouble he might turn out to be.

The locker room had a fresh-paint smell, the metal lockers and the high, gleaming walls a fresh lake-water blue. The rooms were ancient, and had been painted so many times the pipes were layered with semigloss, painted fast to the walls. Our twenty-five-dollar registration fee rented us a locker; everything else cost extra. Not much money went into making the place pretty. If you got good enough to box in any of the regional or national competitions, it could run into hundreds of dollars in bus fare and hotel bills.

Raymond held the door for me, kidding, giving me a butler's after-you bow.

On the way down the hall Loquesto was Magic-Marking my name next to Stacy Martell, a security guard who'd been in the navy.


Excerpted from Redhanded by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 2000 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Michael Cadnum is the author of 35 books for adults and young adults. His work—which includes thrillers, suspense novels, historical fiction, and books about myths and legends—has been nominated for the National Book Award (The Book of the Lion), the Edgar Award (Calling Home and Breaking the Fall), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (In a Dark Wood). A former National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, he is also the author of award-winning poetry. Seize the Storm (2012) is his most recent novel.
Michael Cadnum lives in Albany, California, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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