Underdogs (Wolfe Brothers, #1-3)

4/5 stars

Underdogs (Wolfe Brothers, #1-3) by Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak has earned a place at the top of my list of favorite authors. If you haven’t read The Book Thief, do. Read my review of it first though–I think you should know some things before you start. Read I am the Messenger too.

Once you’ve read those, you’re going to want more Markus Zusak–at least I did. Luckily I discovered Underdogs. It is a compilation of the first three books Zusak published. Originally published in his native Australia, they have only recently become available to readers in the U.S. They feel very “Australian,” with lots of slang and sentence structure that was strange to my American mind but understandable within context and actually really fun to experience. The three books follow a few months in the ordinary life (a Zusak theme) of Cameron Wolfe, a very self-introspective, ponderous, but in most ways normal, 15-year-old boy. The plots are very simple and center around Cameron, his older brother Ruben, and their exploits involving the rest of the Wolfe family.

I enjoyed Underdogs. It is not on the same level as TBT or IATM, but still very well written and classic Zusak style.
With a lot of short sentences.
That are used.
Another classic Zusak element is his emphasis on the strength of words, and his unique and powerful words are on display here–albeit in a way that shows how far he’s come in penning the amazing words of The Book Thief.

Here’s one of my favorite passages. Cameron dreams . . .

“There’s a big crowd, around a fight, and they are all yelling and howling and screaming, as though punches are landing and fists are molding faces. It’s a huge crowd, about eight deep, so it is very difficult to push my way through.
I get down on my knees.
I crawl.
I look for gaps and then slip through them, until, eventually, I’m there. I’m at the front of the crowd, which is a giant circle, thick.
‘Go!’ the guy next to me yells. ‘Go hard!’ Still, I look at the crowd. I don’t watch the fight. Not yet.
There are all kinds of people amongst this crowd. Skinny. Fat. Black. White. Yellow. They all look on and scream into the middle of the ring.
The guy next to me is always shrieking in my ear, drilling right through my skull to my brain. I feel his voice in my lungs. That’s how loud he is. Nothing stops him, even the ones behind who throw words at him to make him shut up. It is no use.
I try stopping him myself, by asking him something–a shout over the rest of the crowd. ‘Who y’ going for?’ I ask.
He stops his noise. Immediately. He stares.
At the fight. Then at me.
A few more seconds pass and he says, ‘I’m goin’ for the underdog . . . I have to.’ He laughs a little, sympathetically. ‘Gotta go for the underdog.’
It is then that I look at the fight, for the first time.
Something is strange.
‘Hey,’ I ask the guy again, because there is only one fighter inside the huge, loud, throbbing circle. A boy. He is throwing punches wildly and moving around and blocking and swinging his arms at nothing. ‘Hey, how come there’s only the one fella fighting?’ It is the guy next to me again that I have asked.
He doesn’t look at me this time, no. He keeps focused on the boy in the circle, who fights on so intensely that no one can take their eyes off him.
The guy speaks to me.
An answer.
He says, “He’s fighting the world.’ And now, I watch as the underdog in the middle of the circle fights on and stands and falls and returns to his haunches and feet and fights on again. He fights on, no matter how hard he hits the ground. He gets up. Some people cheer him. Others laugh now and rubbish him.
Feeling comes out of me.
I watch.
My eyes swell, and burn. ‘Can he win?’
I ask it, and now, I too cannot take my eyes off the boy in the circle.”

Pretty cool, right?

As you might imagine, getting into the authentic mind of a 15-year-old boy the topics get a little . . .ummmm. . . I’ll say “girl-centric.” There were a couple of moments when I was afraid Cameron’s thoughts would go too far and I would have to put the book down before it crossed my boundary of appropriateness. Luckily, Cameron is a really good guy and his thoughts never got that far. I actually found Cameron to be a little too deeply introspective at times. I even felt a bit that Cameron was a weird-o because I don’t know any 15 year olds who really think as deeply as he does. Other times, though, I really felt like Cameron was right on, and I remember feeling the same way. Maybe I was a weird-o. Hmmmm. . . .

Underdogs was a pretty great read, and I recommend it to all mature readers with the same enthusiastic plug I gave for The Book Thief and I am the Messenger. Be on the lookout for the publication date for Bridge of Clay, Markus Zusak’s next project!

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