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Grade 9 Up—Suckerpunch is as powerful as its title implies. Marcus is quiet and artistic; his younger brother, Enrique, is a charismatic ladies' man. Both boys have been scarred by their father's constant physical abuse directed at Enrique and witnessed silently by guilt-ridden Marcus. The man left a year earlier, but the boys are far from healed. Enrique turns to fighting and dating and dumping girl after girl, while Marcus gets stoned. Then they get the news that their father may be returning home, and it sends both siblings, along with Enrique's girlfriend, Ashley, and Marcus's friend Oliver on a road trip that will change their lives forever. Using dark, descriptive text and explicit dialogue, Hernandez paints a very realistic portrait of the aftereffects of abuse. Not only does he create memorable and sympathetic characters in Enrique and Marcus, but he also brings life to Oliver, who is dealing with paternal demons of his own, and headstrong but caring Ashley. In the end he does not tie everything up neatly, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. Older teens looking for gritty urban drama are sure to embrace this gripping, well-written story.—Shari Fesko, Southfield Public Library, MI
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In the summer before his senior year, Marcus and his friends escape their troubles at parties involving sex, drugs, and alcohol (all detailed in some explicit passages). At the background of Marcus’ angst is the physical abuse that his younger brother suffered from their father, who then left the family. Now, Dad wants to come back, and Marcus’ mother is considering the possibility. This sends Marcus, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend on a road trip to track down their father in San Francisco, where they hope to exact their own psychological revenge on Dad. The episodic, first-person narration powerfully captures Marcus’ scattered, adolescent thoughts, and many young readers will recognize his raw, unvarnished voice. The end provides a rather heavy-handed symbol of Marcus coming to terms with his past, but this is only a minor quibble about this otherwise realistic, affecting coming-of-age debut from a poet known for his adult works. Grades 10-12. --Todd MorningSee all Editorial Reviews