In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head - even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen. A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing. Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble - and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces.
Lincoln Jones is always working on the latest story he's got going in his notebook. Those stories are his refuge. A place where the hero always prevails and the bad guy goes to jail. Real life is messy and complicated, so Lincoln sticks to fiction and keeps to himself. Which works fine until a nosy girl at his new school starts prying into his private business. She wants to know what he's writing, where he disappears to after school, and why he never talks to anybody.
Levi Battle's been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman - until Levi's grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi's staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it's 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it's time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to North Carolina.
Otis, Willie, and Hibernia are three children with a lot in common: they've all lost a loved one, they each have secret dreams, and they won't stop fighting for what they want. And they're also a lot like their hero, famed boxer Joe Louis. Throughout this moving novel, their lives gradually converge to form friendship, family, and love. Their trials and triumphs echo those of Joe Louis, as he fights to become the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion.