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The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
Literary fiction

The Knockout Queen

by Rufi Thorpe

Quick take

Remember how fun high school was? Yeah, we don’t either. For everyone who wasn’t prom queen or homecoming king.

Good to know

  • LGBTQ+ friendly

  • Sad

  • Teens

  • Underdog


This is a character-driven novel with themes of violence, bullying, and discrimination. Flawed characters and dark humor abound!

Why I love it

This is my favorite book of the year so far. One of the dangers of reading so many new books each month is that I overuse these words a lot. But I can’t help it. In January I was telling everyone about The Sun Down Motel. Then April came along and I couldn’t stop talking about Valentine. So consider this my endorsement, with an asterisk: The Knockout Queen is my favorite book of 2020 (so far!).

Bunny Lampert is tall, blonde, and has a heart of gold. She’s a talented volleyball player and her father is rich. All this should add up to popularity, right? Wrong. For some reason, she and her best friend Michael—the boy next door who narrates the story—exist on the fringes of high school society. But no matter. As Bunny grapples with her father’s worsening (and occasionally terrifying) alcoholism and Michael begins dating older men he meets online, they take solace in each other. That is, until a sudden act of violence rips their lives, and their friendship, apart.

This is one of those books that kind of defies explanation, which is why I want to take a stab at describing what it is not. It is not a “light” read. It will not make you pine for your teenage years. The world that Bunny and Michael live in is not a particularly fair or beautiful one. What The Knockout Queen is: a moving story about two remarkably resilient humans, from a writer at the height of her powers. I hope you love it too.

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Bunny Lampert is the princess of North Shore⁠—beautiful, tall, blond, with a rich real-estate-developer father and a swimming pool in her backyard. Michael⁠⁠—with a ponytail down his back and a septum piercing⁠—lives with his aunt in the cramped stucco cottage next door. When Bunny catches Michael smoking in her yard, he discovers that her life is not as perfect as it seems.

At six foot three, Bunny towers over their classmates. Even as she dreams of standing out and competing in the Olympics, she is desperate to fit in, to seem normal, and to get a boyfriend, all while hiding her father's escalating alcoholism. Michael has secrets of his own. At home and at school Michael pretends to be straight, but at night he tries to understand himself by meeting men online for anonymous encounters that both thrill and scare him.

When Michael falls in love for the first time, a vicious strain of gossip circulates and a terrible, brutal act becomes the defining feature of both his and Bunny's futures⁠⁠—and of their friendship. With storytelling as intoxicating as it is intelligent, Rufi Thorpe has created a tragic and unflinching portrait of identity, a fascinating examination of our struggles to exist in our bodies, and an excruciatingly beautiful story of two humans aching for connection.

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Get an early look from the first pages of The Knockout Queen.

Read a sample →

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4993 ratings
  • 35% Love
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  • 15% Dislike
    May 2020