Review: The Contender by Robert Lipsyte

The Contender
by Robert Lipsyte
Published May 1996


This is a sports fiction novel that tells a story of Alfred Brooks, a seventeen-year-old high school drop-out, living in Harlem, finding his way in the world and in boxing. Alfred learns that getting to the top is not as important as how you get there, and that before you can be a champion, you have to be a contender with the will to get back on your feet after you have been knocked down. 

Summary and photo from

So let’s talk about an oldie, but super goodie.

The Contender! Yes.

This is one of my favorites because…


…it’s a guy finally deciding to take ownership of his life and choose to do great things. Or better things.

…even though it’s an uplifting story, Alfred does make mistakes. Stupid ones. Big ones. But he doesn’t get hung up over the mistakes he makes, he gets opportunities to choose again. To move forward or move backward.

…there are adults in Alfred’s life, adults that care and adults that are present. It is awesome to see Alfred grow in his support system and prove himself.

…it’s paced well. There is enough sporting montages to satisfy those interested in The Contender for the boxing purposes (at least from my standpoint!), yet it doesn’t dwell too much on the matches and training to bore those who are less interested. Also, I use the word montage purposefully- this entire book rolls in my head as if it were a montage. I love it!

…the ending is still unclear. While there are some things you know, like life there are so many things you can’t know for sure until it’s over.

…one of the thing that amazes me about The Contender is how it is still relevant 40ish years later. It is evident in the book that the story takes place during a certain time. However, the drugs, the racial profiling, the lack of sureness of the future– it all still exists today.

Overall review: While Alfred’s story is inspiring, it is also simply entertaining. This was the 2nd time I have read this book, and it’s only gotten better. I definitely recommend this for 6th graders and up!

Just so you know: If you end up buying this, it will most likely not be $2.25 unless you’re getting it used or something. Just in case you were wondering 😉


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