Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Jab. Duck-bap-bap. Duckbapbap. Duckbapbap. Find your rhythm. Feel your fists against the pads. Know where your next move is and who’s on your side. In Torrey Maldonado’s Hands, getting stronger, faster and tougher is all that 12-year-old Trevor cares about.
As the book opens, Trevor’s life has been turned upside down. His stepdad has been arrested for hitting his mom and has threatened revenge against her for calling the police. In that moment, Trevor promised himself that no one will ever hit his mom ever again.
It doesn’t matter that grown-ups keep telling him that he shows promise—academic promise, artistic promise, athletic promise—or that his dad and uncles wanted him to stay in school so he could get out of the projects. What matters to Trevor is that he has to protect his mom and sisters, and sometimes, he thinks, you just have to solve things with your hands.
Trevor throws himself into getting stronger and learning to fight, first on his own and later with his friend P, who moves into Trevor’s building. But when the trainer at the rec center refuses to help with training because he promised Trevor’s Uncle Lou that he would help Trevor “not to think with his fists,” Trevor begins to wonder whether fighting will solve his problems or just make new ones.
Hands is a compact, fast-paced novel narrated in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness style. Maldonado uses short, staccato sentences like feinted boxing jabs to draw readers in, then rocks them with explosive uppercuts of words and emotions, knocking them into unsteadiness and leaving them uncertain how the next round will go. Trevor’s journey through fear, anger and abandonment toward finding support and true strength is authentic and hopeful.
At just 128 pages, Hands is Maldonado’s shortest work. Although its length makes it approachable for older but less adept readers, the book never sacrifices linguistic or narrative complexity. Readers who enjoy realistic, slice-of-life fiction will be quickly engaged by Trevor’s story, and Maldonado will keep them hooked through all 10 rounds.