Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte

I first read this book when I was in middle school, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. Alfred Brooks lives in Harlem and finds himself in a hopeless setting. Amongst the old, dirty buildings, broken glass, winos, and drugs, Alfred is trying to make the right decisions to give himself a better life. It's hard to do when all of the people around you say you don't have a chance and are trying to pull you back down. Alfred discovers Mr. Donatelli's gym and decides to become a boxer. The first few weeks of training are physically demanding, but Alfred starts to enjoy his early-morning runs followed by workouts at the gym. Mr. Donatelli tells Alfred, "It's the climbing that makes the man. Getting to the top is an extra reward." Alfred doesn't realize it at the time, but Mr. Donatelli is telling him that he must become a contender in his own life.

I'll admit that this book may not appeal to everyone. It was a quicker read than I remembered way back when, and the author did a great job of putting the reader into Alfred's shoes. I appreciated the author's ability to describe Alfred's problems and obstacles, but he was also able to describe the internal conflicts that were running through his mind. I enjoy books where characters overcome seemingly impossible odds to become successful. We don't know for sure how Alfred's life turns out, but we know that he's a contender.

Lexile level from lexile.com 760


  1. Love what you had to say, Mark. I'll steal it next time I have to explain the book.
    Actually, if you're interested in what happens to Alfred, the next book in the series is "The Brave."
    Bob Lipsyte

  2. Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all people you actually recognize what you are talking about!
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