Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE BOXER AND THE SPY by Robert B. Parker

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Robert B. Parker’s sophomore effort into YA fiction delivers more action and better pacing than his first. The Boxer And The Spy is also set in today’s world rather than the 1940s as Edenville Owls was. As an older reader who’s been reading Parker’s books since the 1970s, the earlier time period was no problem for me, but I wondered how many actual YA readers really understood everything that was going on after World War II.

As in his first novel, Parker develops a mystery for his young protagonist, Terry Novak, that spills out of the adult world. Parker spends a lot of time getting the young heroes acquainted with the adult world, though I believe that today’s kids are a lot more acclimated to that world than Parker’s characters. Still, Terry Novak is a kid I would have loved to know back when I was a freshman in high school, and I bet there are prospective readers out there who would feel the same way. He’s got honor, vision, and a sense of himself that are characteristic of Parker’s heroes and heroines.

The mystery wraps around the death of Jason Green. Terry knew Jason as a friend, and the relationship takes on special meaning when Parker reveals the tie that bound them. While everyone else seems content to believe Jason committed suicide, Terry just doesn’t buy it. He (the boxer) enlists the aid of his best gal pal, Abby (the spy), and they set about trying to figure out what really happened.

The relationship between Terry and Abby takes on as much weight as the mystery. This isn’t surprising to those of use that know Parker the way we do, but I believe the actual YA crowd might like the interaction between the two, though a few of them might wonder about how naïve the two are. Today’s kids, while not always callous, definitely have an idea of how the real world works in many ways.

Parker’s trademark clipped prose and rapid-fire dialogue provides plenty of muscle and drives the story along at a good clip. The scenes are powerful and evocative, without being too demanding. The level the books are written on would serve teachers needing something with an easier reading mechanics while maintaining a high interest. Educations dealing with high-risk students should definitely look into Parker’s YA efforts. The short chapters make reading just one more page way too irresistible. Librarians and reading specialists should take note of Parker’s YA books for that aspect alone.

I really enjoyed the boxing angle of the story too. Any longtime reader of Parker’s works will know that his private eye, Spenser, has a history of being a boxer. The love that Parker obviously holds for the sport is immediately apparent during his accounts of Terry’s workouts and talks with George, the black boxer that trains him. However, I would have liked to know more about what brought Terry into the ring and what his mom thought about him boxing. I know the adults are supposed to stay pretty much off screen in a YA book, but this one really cried out for most exposure of Terry and his family life.

Figuring out who the villain is and what’s actually going on was relatively easy. The fun part was watching what Terry and Abby were going to do to get to the bottom of the whole mess. I watched how their minds worked as they narrowed toward instated the back, and that made me remember by own childhood. Parker serves up nostalgia for the adults and excitement for the YA readers.


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