Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Review by Melissa from Avid Reader's Musings: The Underdog and Fighting Ruben Wolfe


One of my favorite bloggers and fellow Markus Zusak fan, Melissa from Avid Reader's Musings,  has agreed to be a part of this week by being guest reviewer posting her reviews of his first two books, The Underdog and Fighting Ruben Wolfe.

Melissa has some fun things going on over at her blog, including a regular feature where she lists books and authors and other bookish things associated with each state on the U.S. Check out this list! She is participating in The Classics Club (is helping to run it too I believe) and check out this list! She's crossing things off like crazy! To learn more about her, click on over to her about page here.

But what did she think about Markus Zusak's first two books? Let's read her reviews now:

The Underdog
by Markus Zusak

Before Zusak gained fame for writing the beloved novel The Book Thief, he wrote a trilogy of books about a young man named Cameron Wolfe: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl.

The Underdog is his first book and the beginning of that trilogy. It tells the story of the Wolfe brothers from Cameron’s point-of-view. He and his older brother Ruben live in Australia and spend their time getting in trouble and annoying their family members.

The novel feels immature in some ways. The style flips back and forth between bits that are stream-of-consciousness, dreams, reflections on the action as it happens, etc. But regardless of that, you can still recognize Zusak’s style even in this early work. He has the ability to turn the simplest feelings into beautiful phrases and that is such a gift.

Cameron is emotional, just like any teenage boy; his feelings are so raw and intense. Even if the plot of the book isn’t that surprising, it’s still a relatable coming of age story that I think rings true with teens.

The work isn’t perfect. There isn’t much of a story, but even in his earliest work you can see the gems of what’s to come. He’s such a talented author and it’s incredible to see how far he’s come in only a decade.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s certainly not Zusak’s best work and it’s not the best place to start with him. But if you already love his writing then the completists out there will want to read it.

“Had years defeated us? Had they worn us down? Had they passed like big white clouds, disintegrating very slowly so that we couldn’t notice?”
Fighting Ruben Wolfe
by Markus Zusak

The Wolfe family is struggling. Cameron’s father is unemployed, his mother is working overtime to keep the family afloat, his sister is recovering from a broken heart by partying all night and his eldest brother Steve has decided to get a place of his own. Meanwhile Cameron and his brother Ruben join a local boxing league and are duking it out to make some extra money.

There’s so much more to this story than boxing or teenage angst. At its core it’s a poignant story of the bond between brothers. There are crushes on girls and dog racing in between those moments, but the most important story is that of Ruben Wolfe; a boy who can’t seem to find happiness despite winning his fights. His brother Cameron is the one who tells us the story and he is the antithesis to Ruben. When Ruben wins, Cam loses, when he gets a girl Cam inevitable loses one, yet the two provide a balance in each other’s lives. They both have an immense love and respect for the other and when one is in pain, the other can’t help but feel it.

BOTTOM LINE: You can almost watch Zusak’s talent grow as you read this trilogy. It starts with a relatively simple story and transforms into a powerful one somewhere along the way. The seeds of his brilliant writing are there in each book. I can’t wait to read the final book in the trilogy and see what happens next for Cameron Wolfe.

“It’s funny, don’t you think, how time seems to do a lot of things? It flies, it tells, and worst of all, it runs out.”

SIDE NOTE: The original books are incredibly hard to find (at least for me) in the states. Last year all three books were published as a single omnibus called “Underdogs” and now it’s everywhere.


Thanks Melissa! Awesome reviews!

Melissa gets to see The Book Thief in play form this week (or last weekend perhaps it is?) so be sure to keep watch out on her blog for her review of that! I'll post a link when it becomes available.

If you've read these first two books, let us know what your impressions were. We'd love to discuss.


  1. These are the two Zusak books I have yet to read. But I felt similarly about GETTING THE GIRL. The talent is there, but it is not yet fully developed. That he went from this trilogy to I AM THE MESSENGER and THE BOOK THIEF is simply incredible.

  2. Jessica - I agree! Getting the Girl is the only Zusak I haven't read, but it is amazing to see his growth as a writer through these books.

    Thanks for letting me join in the Zusak fun Suey! My thoughts on the play will be on my blog on Thursday!

  3. Melissa, I too enjoy seeing the growth of his writing through these books. It's amazing. And yet, even in that first one which is so very simple, the amazing way with words is there. I love it.

    1. Me too. I feel like his writing style was always there, he has just created better and better stories with time.

  4. I love that I'm not the only one who thinks this series is just as good as Markus' other books. :)

    1. I hope more people who love The Book Thief will explore this series!



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