The Knockout by Sajni Patel
I was on the edge of my seat whenever Kareena donned her gloves or got up close and personal with Amit.
Kareena Thakkar had practiced Muay Thai boxing since she was an eight-year-old and was performing at an elite level by the time she was a senior in high school. But she had learned her lesson long ago; girls weren’t supposed to participate, let alone excel, at contact sports, especially not Indian girls. Prejudice against her had cost her friendships and social acceptance in the close-knit, local Indian community, so she had learned to keep her sport to herself and, of course, her supportive mother and father.
When she hit high school, her father was stricken with a complicated renal disease, and the last couple of years had seen him in and out of the hospital, each time an emergency as he teetered on the brink of death. The medical bill mounted, and finances got worse when he was unable to continue working. The house and many possessions were sold, and Kareena’s mother took a second job to make ends meet.
Kareena’s refuge became the Muay Thai program, and as she worked to escape her fears, she pushed herself toward excellence. Then the letter inviting her to participate in the national Muay Thai competition arrived. Her coach urged her to accept, explaining this was her first step toward representing the US on the international stage and, perhaps, a spot on a future US Olympic team. The $50,000 prize awarded to the winner would also go a long way toward easing her family’s financial woes. But first, Kareena would have to raise the money to get to the competition, and finding that kind of funding seemed like an impossible hurdle.
The Knockout by Sajni Patel is a new contemporary young adult tale featuring the unique and tantalizing combination of Muay Thai boxing, Indian culture, learning to trust, and first love. Kareena Thakkar is a talented competitor in her senior year of high school, a time traditionally filled with many memorable activities that could easily become distractions in her preparations to compete nationally. Complicating everything is her father’s illness, its impact on the family’s financial health and future, and the toxic vibes Kareena has been getting from the local Indian community over the preceding years. Not only was the story compelling and emotion-filled, but it challenged societal views of gender-appropriate sports.
Kareena is smart and sassy, a fun and engaging girl under normal circumstances, and a wonderfully supportive daughter to her overwhelmed parents. She does an amazing job keeping her life on track but constantly worries because her parents aren’t telling her everything about her father’s condition and their financial situation; they still see her as a child and want to preserve that innocence and protect her from the grim truth. However, this girl’s no dummy. She’s been participating in the highly physical martial art of Muay Thai boxing since she was eight, and backed by her parents’ belief and support and a never-give-up attitude; she has excelled and found success, acceptance, and respect in the ring. It is no wonder that when things get off-balance at home, she begins to rely more and more on the gym as a refuge, a place she can feel she has some control over things in her life.
There are other pressures, social ones, bearing down as well, any one of which would be enough in itself: a friendship that dissolved over a misunderstanding over a boy resulting in a former confidant spreading malicious rumors about her at school and the continued censure of the aunties and uncles isolating her from the Indian community when they learn of her boxing. Kareena maintains superhuman control over her emotions when taunted by her former friend, Saanvi.
Another storyline is her developing relationship with classmate Amit Patel, the projected class valedictorian and “perfect Indian son.” Amit is an enigma to Kareena. Not only does he have secrets of his own, but she also doesn’t quite trust his involvement in her life because she’s been burned before. But the chemistry between the two is palpable, and I was rooting for Amit to prove to be as good as he seemed and become the true friend (and perhaps the love of her life) that Kareena deserved.
The teenage characters ring true throughout the book, feeling genuine and authentic in their words and deeds. The fight scenes were descriptive enough to depict the emotional and adrenaline-charged atmosphere without too many bloody details. The scenes were riveting and tense, and I was on the edge of my seat every time Kareena donned her gloves.
With its unique premise and engaging characters, I recommend THE KNOCKOUT to readers who enjoy contemporary young adult tales, sports themes, family dramas, and stories steeped in modern Indian culture.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond Book Tours.