Shadowboxer, by Trish Sullivan: yet another highly anticipated (by me) ARC from Netgalley! I've been on a roll lately--possibly because I've been practicing at least a little restraint and requesting books I'm really, really interested in reading, rather than anything that looks good and I can see myself maybe being into.
Check out that cover (and if you're interested, check out the Booksmugglers post about the cover)--you've got your gifted Latina girl from New Jersey who can fight like a demon, and the forests of Thailand behind her, where she goes to train when her uncontrolled temper gets her in too much trouble at home. There's magic here, and mystical happening, and a whole other character besides Jade to follow. But Jade is the heart of the book, and her fight career feels almost as important as the life and death (and beyond) problems that are facing our characters here.
The mystical part of the story revolves around the Forest, which is a mystical place between worlds that some children have the power to visit. Adults can travel there, too, with the help of certain drugs and these children, and one man named Mr. Richard uses his knowledge of the Forest--and a little girl named Mya--to develop new drugs and deliver illicit packages around the world. Mya has been in his care for a year, but she's starting to realize that she may not be safe with Mr. Richard--and others may be in danger, too.
Now, a description of the plot would be too confusing, but I find that true of almost every plot description. The best part of this book by far is Jade, who is tough and insecure, a great fighter with impulse control problems that keep getting her disqualified, a loving, supportive family and a fondness for cats. When she punches someone she shouldn't, her manager sends her to train with his brother in Thailand, and when she comes back, trouble seems to have tagged along.
The weakest part of this book by far was getting all the pieces in place--Jade crosses someone she shouldn't, but a lot of the things that happen only seem to happen to her because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really, for the first half of the book, Jade is living the life of a Jersey fighter while the real problems happen to Mya. But when they all come together--once everyone is in it up to their eyeballs--everything starts rolling fast and they completely had me.
Jade was my favorite part of the book, though. I loved her warm relationship with her cousin; I loved her ongoing determination to get better at keeping her temper (which was ROCK SOLID except during the 30 seconds when it would have been useful); I loved her relationships with the other fighters, both in her gym, at the school in Thailand, and those she meets in the ring. I loved how this book was full of people not just of different races but of different cultures, from around the world, and that is absolutely just a matter of course.
And I learned a lot more than I ever thought I'd know about Muay Thai and Mixed Martial Arts. And you know, I never though I'd be at all interested, but they are handled so perfectly, with just the right amount of actual information and Jade's reactions to things that she understands and I don't, that there's some really fun competence action going on here. I ended up surfing the web for videos of the dance you have to do before a Muay Thai match. It's pretty awesome, and I definitely found that part of the book way more interesting than I would ever have expected.
I do think my only wish is that Jade and the main plot--Mr. Richard, the investigative reporter, Mya--had come together a little earlier in the story, and that the supernatural parts that were about gods had been blended a bit better with those that seemed more straight out magic-is-natural.
But these are clearheaded observations made quite a few days after I finished the book. While I was in it--well, I read it all through vacation, never put it down. (Though I will admit that I had Fiona Apple running through my head the whole time!)