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An insight into the themes of Nikesh Shukla's 'The Boxer'

Posted By Jacob Hope, 15 July 2019
Updated: 15 July 2019

Fiction can be an invaluable way to explore complex and sophisticated issues that influence us individually and as a society.  Here Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant talks about his latest Young Adult book, The Boxer and some of the, much needed, conversations that he hopes might arise from the book.

 

I wrote The Boxer because I wanted young people to have the language to talk about the trauma of racism.

 

When I was a teenager, I was hit by a car, and the driver, angry at me for daring to step out on to a zebra crossing, called me a blind paki. Those words stayed with me. They haunted me. They made me internalise a lot of feelings about what it meant to be an Asian in Britain. Frankly, it ruined my teenage years. I couldn’t see my friends. I couldn’t feel settled. I couldn’t find my feet. It was horrible. I descended into the online world and replaced real friendships with chat room ones. I will never forget that person or that moment. They will not have given it a second thought. And that was the thing that stayed with me.

 

I didn’t have the language to talk about. I certainly couldn’t talk to my dad about it. He would have laughed and called it Mickey Mouse compared to what he went through in the 60s and 70s. Mum would have reminded me that I needed to study hard because that was the only way to show people.

 

I’ve dealt with racism my entire life. From overt and obvious and violent, to small and quiet and subtle and insidious. I feel, now, we’re able to have conversations about these issues. Because of books like The Hate U Give and The Good Immigrant and Noughts And Crosses we can have these open conversations about race and racism. I wanted to add The Boxer to that canon. It’s about a kid who is beaten up in a racist attack, and all he wants, in that moment, is the strength to walk away from the situation. He trains with Shobu, who helps him deal with his trauma and also learn how to box. As he learns how to box, he starts to notice that his new best friend is becoming radicalised by the far right.

 

Keir, his best friend, is not a cookie cutter racist. He is a complicated character, dealing with his own loss and family pressures and sense of isolation. It was important to me to ensure that depictions of racism were as complex and nuanced as our ways of dealing with it. So while this is a book about sport and triumph over adversity, somewhere in there is a conversation about the trauma, the haunting awfulness of racist incidents. I’m so excited to get this book into young boys’ hands, so we can talk about masculinity and sport and mental health, but we can also talk about racism, and bullying and radicalisation and what it looks like.

 

The Boxer is my attempt to start multiple difficult conversations. 

 

Tags:  Diversity  Reading  Reading for Pleasure 

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