cover image The Knockout Queen

The Knockout Queen

Rufi Thorpe. Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-65678-4

Thorpe’s fierce third novel (after Dear Fang, with Love) observes the development of and challenges to an intense friendship between two outcasts at a Southern California high school in the early 2010s. Michael, gay and closeted, has lived in a shabby house with his aunt and cousin since he was 11, when his mother was sent to prison for nonfatally stabbing his father. In the mansion next door lives Bunny Lambert, an immature volleyball star who desperately wants a boyfriend and, at 6‘3“ at the end of her junior year, fears she is a “complete monster.” While Bunny copes with an alcoholic father and bullying by her classmates, Michael hooks up with guys he meets online. Neighbors and classmates since middle school, Bunny and Michael don’t meet until 10th grade, and their friendship develops as Bunny explores her “girliness” around Michael, while he can “practice being gay.” When students start gossiping about Michael, Bunny pummels one of the girls hard enough to cause a critical injury. While the novel’s plot is thin and rests perhaps too heavily on the dire consequences of this moment of violence, the two central characters are deeply realized and complex. The result cannily dissects the power and limits of adolescent friendship. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (Apr.)