The Compulsive Reader: Underdogs--Markus Zusak's First Book(s)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Underdogs--Markus Zusak's First Book(s)

This past month has been a bit of a whirlwind--I'm not sure why March left in such a hurry, and I'm trying to figure out where the first week of April went. The lack of blogging has been due to the crazy, crazy, crazy busy workload I've taken on in the past month--a real tough month for school (but, midterms next week!) and an increased work schedule. I'm now almost full-time at the bookstore, which is fun and rewarding, but it also means that I've been struggling to fit in schoolwork, never mind blogging. Mix in the fact that I had to buy a new computer in the middle of all of this, and it's amazing that I even can navigate myself to this blog page.

But, one book I did pick up during the past month that I am dying to talk about is Underdogs by Markus Zusak. It's an omnibus edition of his Wolfe Brothers trilogy--The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl. I read the first two novels (I'm hoping to squeeze the third one in before it's due at the library!) and I really liked them.

The novels follow Cameron and Ruben Wolfe, the youngest Wolfe brothers. Their family isn't rich, just on the brink of being dead-broke, and the brothers don't have a sense of purpose like their older siblings do, but they're fiercely loyal to their family. From concocting schemes about holding up a dentist's office to joining an underground boxing ring, the brothers do everything together.

I really liked that the reader can trace the evolution of Zusak's writing style in these two books. The Underdog is his first novel and it's relatively short. Cameron narrates both books and he says at the beginning of The Underdog "it was a normal year." Yet Zusak goes on to write about what seems like a normal year to Cameron is actually the beginning of an awareness--of himself, his family, and the person he wants to be, a lot of which is exposed in his strange dreams. I suppose "quiet" would be the word that would be used to describe the first book, but "quiet" always seems like a euphemism for "dull" and Zusak's writing is anything but dull.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe is set a few months after the end of The Underdog, and it is a little more sophisticated, a bit more engaging as it follows the brothers to an underground boxing ring where Cameron is the underdog who rarely wins and Ruben is the star, undefeated. And yet, Ruben doesn't fight with heart--he's just a winner, nothing more. The emotional journey of the brothers as they learn what it means to win and what it means to fight is really quite brilliant. And at the heart of the story is Cameron and Ruben's relationship and all of the messy rivalries and loyalties that they share.

I highly recommend picking up Zusak's first books--they're quite different from The Book Thief, but still deeply engrossing and funny and just very probing novels that make you think.


Liviania said...

I love these books. The second is my fave, and I was so happy when this came out and the first was finally published in the US.

LinWash said...

I also have this omnibus. Markus Zusak is an incredibly talented writer. He can write comedy and tragedy well.

Cath Brookes said...

I don't think Zusak could write anything bad. It was interesting to see his style change and progress from the first book to the last. During the second book, he begins to use the beautiful metaphor so prevalent in The Book Thief.
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