________________ CM . . . . Volume xxi Number 25 . . . . March 6, 2015


Punch Like a Girl.

Karen Krossing.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2015.
228 pp., trade pbk., pdf & epub, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0828-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0829-4 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0830-0 (epub).

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Penta Ledger.

**Ĺ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The girl in the mirror still has too much hair.

I hack at the tufts with Dadís electric clippers. Why can I still feel Mattís fingers stroking my hair, praising it? Itís your best feature, he used to say.

Sobs rattle my chest. When the clippers become too dull to cut, I toss them in the sink, cracking their plastic casing.

Dad will be pissed, but I donít care. I empty the drawers until I find his straight razor and shaving soap.

I cry out when the razor slices my skin just above my right ear. Blood trickles down my neck. A stain spreads slowly across my lacy, white pajama top.

When my head is shaved raw, I stop.

A tough girl glares back at me from the mirror.


Life is brutal. Horrible things happen to innocent people. But thereís more than one way to punch back.


Tori is a teenage girl who carries a dark secret. Although Tori has close friends, Alana and Jamarlo, she feels that she cannot even tell them what happened at the party. The opening of the novel finds Tori locked in her bathroom, shaving her head and getting rid of her ďbest featureĒ Ė her long blonde hair. By cutting her hair, Tori attempts to build her defenses through taking on the look and attitude of a tough girl.

     With a shaved head and her emotions on a hair-trigger, Tori transforms into what she considers to be a stronger person. At the mall with Alana and Jamarlo, Tori act out her new strength by attempting to defend Jarmarlo from a negative comment from another patron Tori calls ďNeanderthalĒ. Using skills she learned from a self-defense course, Tori breaks Neanderthalís nose, and instead of a juvenile record, she serves her time helping out at a secret shelter for women and children.

     At the shelter, Tori meets Casey, a young girl who refuses to speak. Tori and Casey make a connection when a Monarch butterfly lands on Caseyís hand. Though the butterfly is missing part of its wing, Tori helps Casey understand how strong the Monarch is even though it appears so fragile. With Toriís friendship, Casey says her first words in many months. The strength that Tori builds in Casey later helps Casey to escape from a fearful abduction by her father, and it is here that the metaphor of the butterfly foreshadows the strength that both Tori and Casey find within themselves by the close of the novel.

     Although Tori finds some emotional refuge in working at the shelter, her life outside of the shelter continues to be chaotic as she remains tight-lipped about her sudden change of attitude. Jarmarlo cannot forgive Tori for making him feel weak because she didnít let him defend himself with Neanderthal. Alana becomes distant because she cannot understand why Tori is acting out or doesnít want to hang around with their usual group of friends which includes Toriís ex-boyfriend, Matt. Through Toriís short comments about her ex- and several hurtful and threatening texts from Mattís new girlfriend and Matt, the reader learns that there is more to Toriís rage than simple teenage angst.

     Told from Toriís first person point of view, Krossingís novel touches on several themes, including having the strength to speak out against violence, the realities of domestic violence, abduction and learning to heal. Though there are several times that the reader must suspend belief, including the details around Caseyís abduction and Toriís fight with two school girl acquaintances, the novelís action keeps the pages turning.

     The novelís themes, again, are older than the level of suspended belief for which the author asks. Some of the major events seemed forced, including Toriís agreement with Neanderthal that sheíll complete community service for assaulting him instead of involving the police. Despite these drawbacks, Punch Like a Girl offers readers strong female characters and a positive ending to an otherwise disturbing main plot line.


Penta Ledger is the teacher-librarian at Gravenhurst High School in Gravenhurst, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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