The Contender by Robert Lipsyte

thecontenderIt’s the 1960’s in Harlem, New York. Alfred Brooks is seventeen, a high school dropout, and in real danger of going nowhere in his life. He works at Epstein’s, a neighborhood grocery store, as a stock clerk. It’s probably good enough that he avoids the gang of punks down the street who smoke weed, get drunk, steal cars…

Then one night while looking for his best friend James, Alfred makes a mistake that will change everything. You see, James has been hanging around the same gang Alfred has been trying to avoid. Alfred lets it slip that the owners of Epstein’s grocery leave large amounts of cash in the store over the weekend. The robbery was his fault. James getting caught by the cops is his fault.

He doesn’t know how he ended up at Donateli’s Gym. Henry, the kid from the neighborhood is always talking about the Gym. About the boxers training there. How Alfred should come by sometime. Alfred makes his way up the narrow, dark stairs of the gym. Yes, he tells Mr. Donateli, he wants to train to be a boxer. Yes, he wants to see if he can do it. He wants to see if has what it takes in the ring…to be a contender.

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