For Kalvin Barnes, the only thing that comes close to the rush of playing the knockout game is watching videos of the knockout game.
Kalvin's crew always takes videos of their KOs, but Kalvin wants more—something better. He thinks if someone could really see the game for what it was, could appreciate it, could capture the essence of it—that would be a video for all time. The world would have to notice.
That's where Erica comes in. She's new in town. Awkward. Shy. White. But she's got a good camera and a filmmaker's eye. She could learn. Kalvin could open her eyes to the power he sees in the knockout game; he could make her see things his way. But first she'll have to close her eyes to everything else.
For a while, Kalvin's knockouts are strangers. For a while, Erica can ignore their suffering in the rush of creativity and Kalvin's attention. Then comes the KO that forces her eyes open, that makes her see what's really happening.
No one wins the knockout game.
Coretta Scott King Award honoree G. Neri captures the notorious and terrifying knockout game and its players in an unflinching novel that's hard to read and impossible to put down.
A 15-year-old gets mixed up in dangerous activities in this gritty urban drama, partially inspired by real events. After Erica's parents split up and her mother takes her to live in St. Louis, Erica feels like a fish out of water, part of a small white minority in her new school. Her only refuge is the video camera her father gave her. Then Erica meets Kalvin, the so-called Knockout King, is swept up by his dangerous charm, and starts filming the activities of his "TKO" club, a gang of middle-schoolers who assault random passersby with the intention of knocking them out: "One hit or quit." As events spiral out of control, with people getting hurt and the authorities cracking down, Erica has to choose between her new relationship and friends, and doing the right thing. Neri (Ghetto Cowboy) skillfully portrays the moral and emotional turmoil of a teen desperate for acceptance, and the repercussions of making hard decisions. Racial and social undercurrents further give this story an intense, thought-provoking edge. Ages 12 up.