*"A riveting pugilistic must-read." Kirkus Reviews, starred
Gravity "Doomsday" Delgado is good at breaking things. Maybe she learned it from her broken home.
But since she started boxing with a legendary coach at a gym in Brooklyn, Gravity is finding her talent for breaking things has an upside. Lately, she's been breaking records, breaking her competitors, and breaking down the walls inside her. Boxing is taking her places, and if she just stays focused, she knows she'll have a shot at the Olympics.
Life outside the ring is heating up, too. Suddenly she's flirting (and more) with a cute boxer at her gymmuch to her coach's disapproval. Meanwhile, things at home with Gravity's mom are reaching a tipping point, and Gravity has to look out for her little brother, Ty. With Olympic dreams, Gravity will have to decide what is worth fighting for.
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Sweat sloshed in the folds of Gravity’s plastic suit as she jogged past the Cyclone roller coaster. She ran the Coney Island boardwalk six mornings a week at five-thirty. It was the most peaceful part of her day. Nobody was out except a few other joggers, a couple of homeless people, and the seagulls.
She was terribly hungry this morning, and her scalp ached from the tight cornrows Melsy had put in last night. To distract herself, she conjured the faces of the women she would fight at Trials: decorated national champions like Paloma Gonzales, strong women twice her age like Aaliyah Williams.
But first, Svetlana. Gravity would show her old friend what a mistake it was to challenge her. She turned around at the Wonder Wheel and lengthened her stride, her breath making steam in the cold February air.
Her body felt strong and lean. She had weighed 133.6 that morning, naked, after taking a hot shower and pooping. Subtracting the 0.4-pound inaccuracy of Mom’s scale, and the fact that, between the plastic suit and the Albolene she had smeared on to open her pores, she would sweat off at least a pound and a half on the jog, this meant she could have a little water and a PowerBar for breakfast, a salad without dressing for lunch, and a chicken breast for dinner. If all went well, she would make 132 easy in Spokane without having to spit or jump rope.
She chanted the words in her mind as her sneakers hit the weathered wood and the tips of her braids slapped her shoulders. The sleeping amusement park gave way to rows of shuttered hot dog stands and beach bars. She pulled her boxing glove keychain out of her sports bra and sprinted down the side street that led to their apartment complex, making a 6:30 mile going home. Tyler was in one of his moods, and she didn’t want him to be late for school again.
When she opened the door, he jumped up from the couch, the video game controller still in his hand, and picked up the nagging where he had left off.
“Why did you take so long, Gra Gra? I’m hungry! I was waiting and waiting.”
His eyes reflected the television screen on which he was playing his favorite video game, Hell Slayer 3. He had been up all night playing and had dark circles under his eyes.
Gravity felt her temper rise.
“Ty Ty, I’ve told you a million times. I have to run in order to be an Olympian. You’re a big boy now. You could have made yourself a bowl of cereal.”
“There’s no milk!” he yelled.
“There is! I checked the fridge last night.”
Gravity stalked into the kitchen. There were three roaches crawling over the counter, and she got one with her left hand and one with her right but missed the third. She washed her hands, threw open the refrigerator door, and pulled out the carton of milk to show her brother, but she could tell from the weight of it that it was completely empty.
Gravity smashed the milk carton down on the counter. One of the juice glasses in the dish drainer toppled over and broke. Tyler began to cry.
Who does that? Who takes a completely empty carton of milk and puts it back in the refrigerator to deceive her children? If Mom had thrown it out or left it on the counter, Gravity could have bought a new one on the run home.
She closed her eyes and began to count backward from one hundred. The heat slowly abated. When she got to eighty, she opened them.
Tyler had followed her into the kitchen and was staring at her. His pudgy face was covered with tears and snot.
“Are you okay, Gra Gra?” he asked.
“You broke a glass.”
“I break everything.”
He stuck out his lower lip. “There’s no milk.”
His nostrils began to tremble, and another tear rolled down his wet cheek and fell on his Spider-Man pajamas. “I hate when you run. You take so long I think you aren’t coming back.”
Gravity’s anger evaporated and guilt flooded her. How could she get mad at Tyler? It wasn’t his fault everything was so fucked up.
“Come here, baby,” she said.
He shuffled over and hugged her around the waist. Her plastic suit rustled and a little river of sweat dripped down her legs. She kissed the top of his head, wrinkling her nose at the smell. She scratched away a fleck of dandruff from his scalp.
“When’s the last time you took a bath?” she asked.
She glanced at the clock.
“Well, take one tonight. We’re going to eat cereal with water today, okay? It’s yummy like that. I don’t have time to go to the store.”
Or much money, either. Mr. Rizzo would probably give her some pocket money for Spokane when she saw him at the gym, but it wasn’t like Mom would have thought to leave them cash. And she hoarded that EBT card like it earned interest. Sometimes Gravity wanted to shake her mother and ask if she thought Gravity and Tyler were plants or something that grew off water and sun.
There had been a time when their mother had cooked dinner every night. Steak with broccoli. Brisket with barbecue sauce. Best of all, her homemade challah bread, which was so buttery and moist it tasted like cake. Gravity salivated, remembering its sweet smell. But that was a long time ago.
She watched her little brother think over the cereal-and-water proposition. Stubbornness ran in the family; she had learned through trial and error that she couldn’t make Tyler do anything he didn’t want to do.
“Okay,” he said at last.
She shook some frosted cornflakes into a bowl for him, then poured a little cold tap water into the carton of milk and shook it up before pouring it on. She put the bowl on the table, but Tyler carried it back to the couch, where he un-paused his game and kept playing while he ate.
She let him. Tyler could never sleep when Mom was out all night, and that game was the only thing that kept him from worrying.