The Knockout Queen
In novels that are centered on a close friendship, it's often depicted as an overwhelmingly positive force. In The Knockout Queen, Rufi Thorpe presents a friendship that is equal parts life raft and anvil, and she shows that loyalty can be much less interesting than volatility.
The Knockout Queen's narrator, Michael Hesketh, has been living with his erratically employed aunt in Southern California's affluent North Shore since he was 11, but he doesn't meet Bunny Lampert, his next-door neighbor, until they're both in 10th grade. Bunny doesn't care that Michael is gay, and he commiserates with her about being a 6'3" giantess by the end of their junior year. They bond over having alcoholic fathers and absent mothers, and fearing that no one will ever find them beautiful.
The Knockout Queen is an unexpectedly gorgeous suburban gothic about what, if anything, we owe our nearest and dearest. Thorpe, who has also written the novels The Girls from Corona del Mar and Dear Fang, with Love, spends the first quarter of The Knockout Queen doing prep work, fruitfully gambling that her loose-limbed but assiduous characterizations will hold readers' interest until she springs her plot, which entails a series of distressing events that take place during Michael and Bunny's senior year. As Michael puts it, "Overnight, Bunny had gone from being the princess of North Shore, happy, popular, a varsity athlete, and daughter of one of the most influential men in town" to being, well, something else entirely. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer