Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: Knockout Games - G. Neri

Knockout Games
G. Neri
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Gritty
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Apologies to G. Neri and Carolrhoda Books for not being able to review this copy (received at BEA) earlier!

With that said, there is very little to say about this book other than it's pretty damn good if you can sit through with it.


Knockout Games has a simple premise: a game played by young kids and teens try to knock out an unsuspecting stranger with a single punch. At first I considered that the author might have written Knockout Games to draw attention to a societal problem I had barely read about. But it seems, with the complexity of the novel, that the premise really is a premise. The plot has a pretty simple structure, following the story of Kalvin, the leader of a "gang" of middle and high-schoolers who participate in the knockout games, and Erica, a well-to-do teen from out of town who is caught up in the knockout games simply because she has a camera. Of course, Erica's initial involvement of just filming and editing turns into something more until her choices become quite gruesome.

There is natural narrative tension built from the events Neri is piecing together, but most of the plot is predictable. Erica's initial status as an "other" is so well defined, it seems obvious she's going to have to face the conflict of being involved with the gang.


The two main characters are Erica and Kalvin, and both are characterized very thoroughly. Erica's progression into the gang seems genuine rather than forced, with the weight of her parents' divorce and her loneliness, etc, on her shoulders. Kalvin, the dropout who struggles for power and control in his life, is also fleshed out and understandable. Most connections any reader will have will fall between these two, whether it be frustration or hatred or excitement or isolation.

I found what most interested was the relationship between Kalvin and Erica, and how they bring their separate worlds together in a fantastic crash. This dichotomy that Neri presents in these two characters really drives the novel forward, and rescues much of the suspense that the predictability steals.


The language of Knockout Games is gritty. That's the one word I can dredge up to describe it. It isn't graphic, nor dull, but Neri's tone, phraseology, everything about the way he writes grates on the back of your mind the way the story is. Nevertheless, it's very useful in bringing the streets of St. Louis alive, crawling with all things dark and dangerous.

In all, the novel is a fantastic exploration into the socio-psychological responses of young adults to pressurized and unstable communities, with interesting, fleshed-out main characters, and tough, gritty language. Unfortunately for me, the plot fell slightly short, being slightly predictable. I would recommend this to anyone who can handle a bit of mild violence.

- Marlon

What's the most foolish thing you did as a kid?
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