Overweight teenage Lily is having a rough time. Tormented at school she has also to cope with a loving but seriously obese mother who has lost the confidence to leave the house. Her father is supportive but often works away from home. But after one particularly humiliating episode with the classroom bully Lily tells him something of what was going on. Enraged, he gets her to start daily training and also join a female boxing academy. She does both, with startling success. She also finally makes a new and increasingly intimate female friend.
Told in verse, mostly free but with occasional rhymes, this is strong stuff. Its subject matter is reminiscent of Judy Blume’s ground-breaking story Blubber written around the same sad subject and published over forty years ago. But has nothing improved since then? Lily has to fight her battles entirely on her own in the face of a male pupil thug and some pathetic girl hangers-on. Her teacher can’t cope and the school has no anti-bullying policy. Lily eventually decides, quite literally, to take matters into her own hands, with the implied lesson here that if you don’t look after yourself no-one else will.
This is still unfortunately true in some schools, but others surely are doing better now? As it is any young readers who are also overweight could well come away from this dark novel fearing for their own classroom future. It would be a shame if tough-talking stories about bad school experience also had the effect of appearing to normalise such cruelty as an expected everyday occurrence. How nice instead if this talented author came up next time with a story detailing pupil and teacher solidarity against bullying along with the idea that meeting violence with violence is not the only way to solve all of life’s problems.