Punch Like a Girl (Review)

Matt Dionne

Karen Krossing’s latest book, Punch Like a Girl, is a 2015 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Book for Kids and Teens award winner that delivers a knockout blow to the idea that women who experience sexual violence need to suffer in silence.
Punch Like a Girl starts in the middle of the night, when Tori Wyatt wakes and impulsively decides to shave off her golden locks that drive all the boys wild. Apparently, we learn they may drive one particular boy too wild, as she experiences flash backs to a party where her then boyfriend, Matt, made unwanted sexual advances towards her.
Tori, unable to cope with her feelings, begins to act aggressively, and impulsively, and in the process, isolates herself and alienates her friends.
It starts when she encounters a particularly homophobic teen at the mall with her two friends, Alina, and Jamarlo. The young bigot verbally accosts Jamarlo, prompting Tory to slam a fist into his face, breaking his nose.
Everyone is shocked by Tori’s response, especially her parents. Jamarlo also feels emasculated and, as a result, refuses to talk to Tori.
Rather than get the police involved, Tori’s parents agree to give her community service. Tori elects a shelter for battered women, and during her time there, she begins bonding with a young girl named Casey, who refuses to speak.
All the while, Tori is experiencing flashbacks from that night with Matt. Each time we learn a little more about what happened, but it’s still not clear what it is he did. With Jamarlo not talking to her, Tori’s only remaining friend is Alina. However, things between the two girls start to get rocky when Alina is with Tori during several more aggressive outbursts.
The relationship becomes strained, as Alina demands to know what’s going on with Tori. Tori, however, refuses to tell her because of the shame she feels. She also hides her secret from her family.
The only blossoming relationship in Tori’s life is the one between her and Casey. Tori’s nurturing presence helps Casey overcome her battle with her own inhibitions, and she eventually breaks her silence. Casey’s mother, overcome with emotion, thanks Tori for investing her time in her daughter.
Her bond with Casey allows her to overcome some of her own demons, and over time Tori begins to repair her relationship with her two closest friends. However, just as things are starting to mend, Matt decides to inject himself in her life, once again without consent.
After a harrowing encounter with Casey, Tori realizes she doesn’t have to do everything on her own, and she confides in her friend Alina. Alina comforts Tori and tells her Matt’s actions aren’t her fault. The relationship appears to be as good as new, and She insists Tori attend an end-of-the-year party that Jamarlo’s girlfriend is throwing.
Tori reluctantly agrees. However, at the party, Tori encounters Matt, alone in the bathroom, and things take a dark turn.
Punch Like a Girl sends a powerful message to women of all ages, and stands in the face of the notion that sexual assault is the victim’s fault.
It’s an inspiring story of redemption, and perseverance, and it has been chosen as the AWS Book of the Month for March.