Cover image for The boxer
The boxer
Karr, Kathleen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus & Giroux, [2000]

Physical Description:
169 pages ; 22 cm
Having learned how to box while in prison, fifteen-year-old Johnny sets out to discover if he can make a decent living as a fighter in late nineteenth-century New York City.
Reading Level:
640 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.5 4.0 42815.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.4 11 Quiz: 22818 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Fifteen-year-old Johnny Woods has struggled to support his family since his father ran off two years before, and sacrifices his schooling in the process. As a natural-born fighter with street smarts and determination, he discovers boxing. Although boxing is illegal in 1885 New York, Johnny powers his way through every obstacle.

Author Notes

Kathleen Karr was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1946. She received a bachelor's degree from Catholic University in 1968 and a master's degree in English literature from Providence College. In 1971, she began working at the American Film Institute in Washington, D.C. She also taught high school and college before taking up writing. She published five works of women's fiction before moving to children's fiction. Her children's novels included It Ain't Always Easy and The Great Turkey Walk. She received the Golden Kite Award for Best Fiction in 2000 for The Boxer and the Agatha Award for best Children's/YA Mystery of the Year in 2003 for The Seventh Knot. She died on December 6, 2017 at the age of 71.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-9. This novel, set in New York City in 1885, concerns 15-year-old Johnny Woods, who works in a sweatshop to support his mother and his younger brothers and sisters until he is arrested for boxing at Brodie's Saloon. He's miserable as he begins his six-month prison sentence, but he turns his life around when a fellow inmate with money and influence takes him under his wing and trains him to become a professional boxer. After his release, Johnny works hard to get an education, improve his boxing skills, and get a home in Brooklyn for his family. Among the few historical fiction books for young people that focus on a lower-class character during peace time, this novel has a gritty setting and a clarity of purpose that some readers will find refreshing. The boxing scenes gain credibility through the author's training in the ring. --Carolyn Phelan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Karr (The Great Turkey Walk) offers an enticing mix of sports action, family drama and period detail in this saga of an amateur boxer growing up in 19th-century Manhattan. Fifteen-year-old Johnny's skill with his fists is as impressive as his high morals and deep devotion to family. After his drunken father runs off, Johnny assumes the role of head of the household. Money being tight, the teen attempts to earn an extra $5 by entering an illegal fight. His subsequent arrest turns out to be fortuitous. In jail, Johnny meets fellow convict Michael O'Shaunnessey, an ex-middleweight champ, who acts as Johnny's personal trainer, manager and mentor. The strenuous workouts Johnny and his new coach begin in their shared cell set into motion a series of events that continues long after their release from prison. On top of Johnny's goal of becoming a champ, he yearns to finish high school and move his family out of their tenement. Most readers will be willing to suspend their disbelief of Johnny's record number of wins long enough to cheer him on during his struggle to fight fair both inside and outside of the ring. The book's one-two-punch pacing and warmhearted resolutions will keep the pages turning. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Set in 1885, this atmospheric historical novel tells the story of 15-year-old Johnny Woods and his struggle to rescue his mother and five siblings from a life of miserable poverty on New York City's Lower East Side. Seeing no solution in the meager wages he earns in the sweatshops, Johnny turns to boxing. A natural born fighter with fierce determination and an explosive temper, he ends up incarcerated in New York City's infamous "Tombs" after an illegal public boxing bout. While there, Johnny meets a man named O'Shaunnessey, who trains him to become a professional boxer and takes on the role of his absentee father. Once paroled, O'Shaunnessey helps the teen build his career and eventually earn enough money to move his family to a better life in Brooklyn. At the novel's end, the protagonist contemplates leaving the violent sport behind and completing his education. Karr does an admirable job of creating a vivid sense of time and place. Besides all of the interesting details about boxing, there are plenty of descriptions of the economic and social conditions of the day. The ringside action is quite exciting. The characters are also well developed, particularly Johnny, who matures in the course of the story. A wonderful blend of fascinating history and compelling drama.- Edward Sullivan, Langston Hughes Library, Clinton, TN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



From The Boxer Brought it on my own head, I had. My ma's always been after me not to fight. But what's a little fellow like me meant to do? Seems like there's always been someone after me for one thing or the other, always been someone bigger. Tonight had just seemed like a reasonable solution to a lot of things. Tonight in the room behind Brodie's Saloon. Just my luck Brodie was behind on his payoffs. Just my luck New York City's finest picked tonight for a raid. I twisted up a little tighter, trying not to let too much of me touch the filthy mattress. The bruises from Brodie's back room began to throb. Everywhere, it felt like. I closed my eyes and tried not to breathe the cell's loathsome air. Where had I gone wrong? Excerpted from The Boxer by Kathleen Karr All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.