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All booksLiterary fictionThe Knockout Queen
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
Literary fiction

The Knockout Queen

by Rufi Thorpe

Quick take

Remember how fun high school was? Yeah, we don’t either. For everyone who wasn’t prom queen or homecoming king.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen

    Teens

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Underdog

    Underdog

Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator

FYI

This is a character-driven novel with themes of violence, bullying, and discrimination. Flawed characters and dark humor abound!

Why I love it

Siobhan Jones
BOTM Editorial Team

This is my favorite book of the year so far. One of the dangers of reading so many new books each month is that I overuse these words a lot. But I can’t help it. In January I was telling everyone about The Sun Down Motel. Then April came along and I couldn’t stop talking about Valentine. So consider this my endorsement, with an asterisk: The Knockout Queen is my favorite book of 2020 (so far!).

Bunny Lampert is tall, blonde, and has a heart of gold. She’s a talented volleyball player and her father is rich. All this should add up to popularity, right? Wrong. For some reason, she and her best friend Michael—the boy next door who narrates the story—exist on the fringes of high school society. But no matter. As Bunny grapples with her father’s worsening (and occasionally terrifying) alcoholism and Michael begins dating older men he meets online, they take solace in each other. That is, until a sudden act of violence rips their lives, and their friendship, apart.

This is one of those books that kind of defies explanation, which is why I want to take a stab at describing what it is not. It is not a “light” read. It will not make you pine for your teenage years. The world that Bunny and Michael live in is not a particularly fair or beautiful one. What The Knockout Queen is: a moving story about two remarkably resilient humans, from a writer at the height of her powers. I hope you love it too.

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Synopsis

Bunny Lampert is the princess of North Shore⁠—beautiful, tall, blond, with a rich real-estate-developer father and a swimming pool in her backyard. Michael⁠⁠—with a ponytail down his back and a septum piercing⁠—lives with his aunt in the cramped stucco cottage next door. When Bunny catches Michael smoking in her yard, he discovers that her life is not as perfect as it seems.

At six foot three, Bunny towers over their classmates. Even as she dreams of standing out and competing in the Olympics, she is desperate to fit in, to seem normal, and to get a boyfriend, all while hiding her father's escalating alcoholism. Michael has secrets of his own. At home and at school Michael pretends to be straight, but at night he tries to understand himself by meeting men online for anonymous encounters that both thrill and scare him.

When Michael falls in love for the first time, a vicious strain of gossip circulates and a terrible, brutal act becomes the defining feature of both his and Bunny's futures⁠⁠—and of their friendship. With storytelling as intoxicating as it is intelligent, Rufi Thorpe has created a tragic and unflinching portrait of identity, a fascinating examination of our struggles to exist in our bodies, and an excruciatingly beautiful story of two humans aching for connection.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of The Knockout Queen.

Member thoughts

All (8188)
All (8188)
Love (2612)
Like (4130)
Dislike (1446)
8352 ratings
  • 31% Love
  • 49% Like
  • 17% Dislike
  • Sandusky, OH

    A little slow but intriguing to say the least. I have 2 gay cousins and it is always nice to read things about their point of view and how others perceive them. No one truly understands things unlessoutreadinothersshoes

  • Wichita , KS

    Wow! I didn’t think I’d like the book as much as I actually did! Unexpected, dark story line. The relationship between Michael & Bunny is so real. It’s sad, but joyful at the same time. Well crafted!

  • Southbury, CT

    One of the best books about teens and their issues I have ever read—and I’ve read a lot!! This is one I will be recommending as a fantastic novel as well as a handbook for teen parents! A must read!

  • Doylestown, PA

    I loved this! Michael and Bunny are just two kids trying to find their place in a world that isn’t perfect and won’t always be welcoming but their friendship endures and their resilience was inspiring

  • Long Island city, NY

    This book kept surprising me. As the story unfolded, I often wasn’t sure where we were heading, but in the best way. Bunny and Michael’s friendship reminded me of one I never had, so real I was there.

  • Danville, IL

    I am an enneagram 4 through and through and I LOVED THIS BOOK. Michael might be my favorite literary character I’ve met all year. Such a brilliant portrayal of being a human and aching for connection.

  • College Station, TX

    I loved this so much more than I expected! At its core, this book’s about two people trying their best to make sense of a dark and unforgiving world, and a friendship that endures in spite of it all.

  • Findlay , OH

    This is one of the best books I’ve read all year! It was so incredibly real, the characters were well developed and complex. So many parallels and layers to the story. Unpredictable, tragic, beautiful

  • Lawrence, KS

    This book was surprising and a story unlike I’ve read before. Some of the details rang false for me (extreme homophobia in LA in 2019?) but I appreciate a book where the lines are blurred between good

  • Roswell, GA

    I loved this so much I flew through it in two days and promptly bought two of her other books. I couldn’t put it down. One of the strangest and most compelling coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.

  • Arkport , NY

    Rufi Thorpe is one of the best writers today. These are characters who are so richly written and broken that they will haunt you long after you finish this book. She’s remarkably talented. A MUST read

  • Menomonee Falls, WI

    Couldn’t put it down! The characters were so interesting and complex - I had to find out what happened to them next. The story was serious and funny and tragic and thought provoking at the same time.

  • Kansas City, MO

    I didnt expect this book to be as heavy as it was. It addresses very real, very emotional themes. Beautifully written. So many vivid moments where you think - I didn’t know other people felt this too.

  • Brentwood, CA

    This book evoked a lot of pain & heartbreak for me. It brings up a lot of good points of bravery, self-love/self-hatred for who we are as people and the things we do and don’t do for the ones we love.

  • Canton, OH

    The characters were instantly real to me and although a lot of the “realness” was dark stuff, there was plenty of humor as well. I’d say if you are an armchair psychologist this book is for you.

  • Los Angeles, CA

    There’s an underlying beauty about falling in love. Love is an incredible thing. The unspoken love between two friends drafts a bond that often unbreakable, even in the worst of times. Love evolves.

  • Boise, ID

    This was AMAZING. Loved the writing, the complicated plot, the conflicted characters, the real ending that left more questions than answers (which I know is not for everyone). This book was authentic.

  • Waterville, ME

    I found Thorpe’s intermittent use of Greek gods interesting throughout the story. It wasn’t what I expected, in the best way! I wanted to find out what would happen to Bunny from start to finish.

  • Minneapolis, MN

    I did not expect to love this book, but I did. I fell in and out of love continuously with Bunny and Michael and my heart ached for both of them. It was such a privilege to experience Thorpe's story.

  • Severn, MD

    Much more depth than the title and book jacket lead me to believe. Beautiful and profound story that made me think more deeply about how the world treats people and things we choose not to understand

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