Allison's Book Bag

The Ring by Bobbie Pyron

Posted on: October 15, 2011

A story about a girl boxer? The idea didn’t grab me. Why would I want to read about tough girls beating each other up? A story about a middle-class teenager who is headed down a path of self-destruction? I still felt skeptical: it’s been done before in problem fiction and after school specials. After reading The Ring by Bobbie Pyron, I changed my mind on both accounts.

Fifteen-year-old Mardie at first seems like just another teen in trouble. Then we learn that Mardie lost her mom in an accident, hasn’t adjusted well to having a stepmom, and every time Mardie messes up her dad berates that she’s just like her mom. Like many teens, Mardie also isn’t all that popular. A fact that she handles about as badly as most unpopular teens! She tries in all the wrong ways to get accepted: She dates a popular guy who is also a playboy, cuts classes with the result of failing grades, is arrested for getting drunk, and has to appear before for judge for shoplifting. By this point, you’re probably thinking Mardie is just another teen with plenty of excuses for being in trouble and so this is yet another sob story pleading with us to understand her.

Not so. Her parents turn out to be not so bad. Her so-called perfect older brother has his own secrets. And even her friends are struggling with their own issues. Mardie is simply making some stupid choices, like many of us do when growing up. Then one day her step-mom takes Mardie to the gym, where she feels jazzed to see female boxers. I’m not. My reaction is like that of her dad: Boxing is too violent. I don’t know why anyone would want to do that to themselves. When told by sparring mates that to make it as a boxer she needs to put on weight, Mardie echoes another reaction of mine: No way, I’m going to look all big and beefy. Yet Pyron wins me over with Mardie’s choice, because it becomes apparent how perfectly boxing fits Mardie’s needs. The female boxers are strong and focused, not caring what anyone else thinks. Mardie thrives when she develops this kind of respect for herself. The female boxers also don’t reject her because of her delinquency record. They have all been dealt a few nasty blows and were less than perfect in their handling of them. Mardie also thrives with this kind of peer acceptance.

Mardie learns to channel her anger into discipline. Ah-ha! I bet you thought I was going to say “channel her frustrations into a punching bag”. But no, Mardie discovers that beating up a punching bag does nothing make her knuckles sore. She also learns that fighting is not enough; even the best boxers need to know when to walk away from bullies. Turns out, it’s the workouts, the practice, and the goals that help Mardie control her anger and boost her confidence. You see, sometimes bad choices are less about not knowing the right solutions and more about believing enough in yourself to care about the right ones. Her trainer Kitty’s mantra is: “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” Kitty helps Mardie and the other girls realize that boxing isn’t about beating people up. Holding their own against opponents requires them to make tough and deliberate choices: They have to show up to practice, listen to their trainer, and respect their competition. They also have to figure out that there’s more to life than just winning; sometimes getting into the ring is about doing one’s best. Pyron helped me see female boxers not as tough beefy girls but as teens struggling for a positive way to find their place in life.

By the end of the book I felt pretty strong sympathy for Mardie. She starts out as a teen in trouble, but turns into a teen with enough problems to make anyone turn to self-destructive behaviors. Hence, the shoplifting and Mardie’s day in court. Yet the judge doesn’t cut her any slack. Nor do her parents. Or for that matter her friends. And so in the end Mardie has to rethink some of her choices if she wants to make something of herself. Mardie makes me want to put on some boxing gloves. She also inspires me to want to improve, improve, and improve. For all these reasons, The Ring is a pretty nifty and different book.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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2 Responses to "The Ring by Bobbie Pyron"

Thank you so much for your spot-on insights into my book, THE RING! I was inspired to write the book when by then 14-year-old stepdaughter was experiencing many of the problems Mardie faced. My stepdaughter discovered a boxing program for “at risk” teenage girls and blossomed. And just a bit of FYI, women’s amateur boxing will be an official sport at the next summer Olympics!

My own teen years were rather turbulent and so I related on a personal level to The Ring. As an elementary teacher, I can also think of female students of mine who in a few years might benefit from a boxing ring. So I loved the book on two accounts. And now that you have me interested in female boxing, my husband and I will need to watch for it next summer. We always enjoy watching the Olympics!

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