________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 2. . . .September 11, 2015


Fight Back. (SideStreets).

Brent R. Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2015.
174 pp., pbk., hc. & ebook, $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95 (ebook).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0858-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0859-3 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0860-9 (ebook).

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4



I rounded the corner into the kitchen. The first thing I saw was a birthday cake and a gift sitting on the table. Charlene and Wayne were standing across the room, and they said, “Happy Birthday, Tyler,” in unison.

After the bike fiasco when I was a kid, my parents had never mentioned my birthday again. Every year, like any kid, I hoped that someone would remember, but it never happened. I sat down, unsure of what to do.

“I know your birthday was yesterday, but we just found out today,” Charlene said. “You should’ve told us, but better late than never, right?”

“Thank you. I didn’t mention it because...” I began, but lost the thought. “Thank you very much.”

I hoped they understood that I just didn’t have it in me to be excited. I’d always survived by expecting the worst. You could only get hurt and disappointed by getting excited about the prospect of something good happening.

“I didn’t cook supper, Tyler. We thought you might enjoy going out for something,” Charlene said. “Your choice. But first, why don’t we sample that cake? I’ll get plates and forks. Grab me three glasses, would you, Wayne?”

We each had a slice of cake – a small one, so we didn’t ruin our appetites – and a glass of milk. I was embarrassed about the gift, and hoped I wasn’t showing it. I was also getting a little curious about what was under that wrapping paper.

“Open it up, Tyler, see what you think,” Wayne said as he slid the package across the table to me.

“Can I wait until later?” I asked. “Sure, it’s your gift,” Wayne replied, as Charlene smiled like she understood. “Okay, I’m going to lie down and read a bit. Whenever you guys feel like eating, just yell out to me,” I said as I picked up the package and went downstairs. I lay on the bed and clutched the gift to my chest and within minutes I was asleep. That was all I wanted – to experience something good, just once, and to wake up to find it still there, still real.


An alcoholic and abusive father, a mother who abandoned him, a grandmother who kicked him out of the house and a foster family – life has not been easy for teenager Tyler Josten. The only solution Tyler can find in a tough situation is to fight, both verbally and physically, since this is all he has ever known. Fortunately Wayne and Charlene, Tyler’s foster family, are warm and compassionate and are willing to work with Tyler and help him overcome his past. Wayne quickly suggests that Tyler put his fighting attitude to good use and begins teaching him how to box, thus giving him an outlet for all of the emotion he has kept bottled up for so long and giving him the opportunity to prove himself.

     Brent R. Sherrard has created an interesting antagonist in Tyler. Readers will feel sorry for him and yet, at the same time, will dislike his moodiness and aggressive behaviour. Wisely, the author does not give Tyler an easy and straightforward route to overcoming his past. Even after he resolves to be a better person, he slips into old habits of using drugs and picking fights. Just when he seems to be changing, a flashback from his past will occur and his anger and hatred boil up all over again. Only with channelling his physical energy into a strict training regimen and gradually accepting simple gestures, such as a hug from Charlene, does Tyler finally emerge as a person who knows what he wants and is prepared to turn himself around. He must learn to trust other people and work on being positive and optimistic in everyday situations.

     Tyler’s biological family is no support for him. He runs from his abusive father and, for a short time, lives with his grandmother. She has little influence on him, and, when he gets into trouble with the police, she kicks him out of the house. His foster parents are completely different. Charlene is motherly, baking and cooking and doing what she can to help Tyler loosen up emotionally. Wayne sees the potential in the young man and helps Tyler begin to have self-esteem and confidence by involving him in the sport of boxing.

     The novel is part of Lorimer’s “Sidestreets” series and thus is written in a straightforward manner intended to appeal to reluctant readers. The chapters are short, and the entire story moves quickly. Avid readers might like more background, but the intent of the series is to motivate those who usually choose to read, and so brevity is critical. The novel appears to be intended for male readers, with its emphasis on boxing and the cover art of a downcast young man dressed in a grey hoodie. However, Fight Back will have appeal for both male and female readers of any reading level since the story is one of overcoming obstacles in order to find and build on one’s strengths.

     Fight Back deals with tough and somewhat controversial subjects as a matter of course, rather than being preachy. Wayne shows Tyler a different approach and the reasons for it but is wise enough to let the young man make his own decisions. Changing oneself and carefully putting back all of the broken pieces into a complete person takes time, energy and single-mindedness. Students who read this book may feel somehow broken as well, and Tyler provides an excellent role model for them.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian who also taught English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

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

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