Alfred is 17, African American, and living in Harlem. A high school dropout, he works at a grocery store and feels like his life is going nowhere fast. His best friend has drifted away from him, away from life, and into a haze of drug addiction and violence. Most recently, some street punks have started to harass Alfred for something he didn't do. Now Alfred feels not just powerless, but afraid — and he wants to be able to walk down the street like a man.
Gathering his courage, he starts going to Donatelli's Gym, a neighborhood boxing club famous for training champions. There, Alfred learns more than he expects. "It's the climbing that makes the man," Mr. Donatelli tells him. "Getting to the top is an extra reward." At first, Alfred doesn't know what that's supposed to mean. He just wants to make himself a winner. But as his life begins to change and as his goal comes within reach, he begins to understand and believe that he can set his sights on goals well beyond the boxing ring.
This acclaimed novel for young adults is a stirring evocation of self-discovery in difficult circumstances. Former sports journalist Robert Lipsyte makes the boxing scenes vivid and realistic, but he is equally successful at depicting life on the streets and Alfred's inner struggle to find within himself the man he would like to be. This powerful story is recommended to sports-minded young adults and reluctant readers.