Fighting Ruben Wolfe
by Markus Zusak
Publisher: Random House
I have never come across a book that would appeal so much to an 'average' teenage boy (if there is such a thing). I mean, a teenage boy who would rather do anything else than read a book. Zusak brings us into a world of teenage disaffection and communicates it with us bluntly and humorously.
The book is not exclusively aimed at the male of the species though, as it is accessible to teenage girls and adults alike.
Here are some of the reasons why this book is brilliant:
Zusak has created a strong, idiosyncratic, engaging narrative voice in the well-rounded character of Cameron Wolfe. Cameron's outlook on life is unique, and is the filter through which we observe the Wolfe family. Cameron is reminiscent of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little – a disillusioned youth trying to make sense of a puzzling adult world. He makes for fascinating reading as he jostles to find his place in the world. Cameron is sensitive, disaffected, frustrated, concerned, gutsy, anxious, overshadowed - an underdog hero. Zusak has allowed us into Cameron's mind and we get a full insight into Cameron's reality.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe is gritty and real. Zusak describes real life so naturally that reading his narrative is like being a fly-on-the wall of the Wolfe household for a short while, capturing them just as they are at that particular time in their lives. As a result, we experience the thrill and pain of emotion that accompanies all their highs and lows.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe is poetry. It is prose, but such poetic prose that it jumps about on the page and leaps towards you. It has rhythm and pace and rhyme. I found myself re-reading sections because they were so pleasing to read; to say out loud and repeat.
The story is unashamedly violent without being gratuitous. The violence is described with the same element of poetry, for example, 'Blood has flooded my chest and stomach. It eats into my shorts.' There is gore, but it is not gory.
The story is emotive. It is a touching portrayal of how individual struggles and problems impact a whole family, and the lengths to which members will go to help each other. Cameron observes his whole family. He describes each family member and is able to empathise with their individuality. He is also acutely aware of the subtleties of the interactions between each member. Cameron is not elaborate on this matter, he does not laboriously describe nuances between one person and another. Instead we read passages like this when Cameron's older brother leaves home. 'On the porch, mum cries. Dad holds up his hand in goodbye. Sarah holds the last remnants of a hug in her arms. A son and a brother is gone.'
The narrative is powerful. It is full of smells, sensations, emotions and reactions. As a result we become fully immersed in the world that the Wolfe family occupies.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe is good humoured. Hilarious, in fact. The unpredictable, quirky, intelligent humour comes from using troubled teenager Cameron as the narrator. Cameron and Ruben, neighbourhood 'hoodlums', are tied to walking their neighbour's dog to keep their neighbour happy. The dog in question is Miffy 'a fluffy midget thing...a fluffy embarrassment machine'. Cameron goes on to explain that they look like 'two juvenile idiots walking a ball of fluff down the road. It's out of hand. That's what it is. It's disgraceful'. Moments like this litter the pages of Fighting Ruben Wolfe. They made me laugh out loud.
Cameron's perception of other people is insightful. He describes Perry's smile as 'a smile of diseased malice, friendliness and happiness all rolled into one devastating concoction.' Which begs the question, how can he know who to trust? He resolves to trust in his brother, Ruben, and hope for the best.
Although Fighting Ruben Wolfe is written for young people, it is not by any means patronising. It has layers of depth and insight into the meaning of fighting and being a 'fighter' (are you really fighting if you know you are going to win? Are you a fighter if you persevere through difficult times without losing your integrity?). The book also explores themes of pride, identity and relationships. A young reader will, I'm sure, be refreshed by the mature way big issues are presented to him or her.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe is fun to read, lively and compelling. It is a well-executed snapshot into un-sanitised family life via Cameron Wolfe who is a witty, honest and engaging narrative voice. I highly recommend it.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe will be published on the 5th Feburary.
Watch out for a joint Random House & The View From Here Project coming soon involving £300 worth of books as we do an experiment to gauge the reaction of that endangered species, the male reader, to Fighting Ruben Wolfe.