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Book Review: Championess by Taryn Shanker, Kelly Zekas, and Amanda Perez Puentes

Posted on 09/24/2021

By: Stephanie Kent

On a shelf of books about boxing, you’ll find no shortage of fighter memoirs, compilations of short stories, and fitness guides. Taryn Shanker, Kelly Zekas, and Amanda Perez Puentes’ graphic novel Championess is a unique addition to the boxing canon. 

Based loosely on the true story of female prizefighter Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wilkinson, the book follows her journey to win bare-knuckle fighting matches that bring in enough money to get her sister out of debt. Little is known about the history of the real Wilkinson, but in Championess, we find the fictional athlete has no shortage of things to fight for. The fictionalized version of this figure is the heart of the story. Her witty internal monologue and lack of filter pull us through the story and it’s fun to read her internal monologue while she fights, trains, and reflects on her dark familial past. 

Flashbacks to a family torn apart by poverty play out to raise the stakes of Wilkinson’s fights, but the sections about the sport are far and away the most exhilarating. Lizzie’s relationship with her trainer is one any young, scrappy newcomer to a gym will see themselves in, and the book even features a training montage complete with chicken chasing. The timelessness of boxing conveyed in this book is delightful to read. 

The book is exciting; artfully drawn fights take place against an ambitious story about racism, classism, and gender equality. The narrative is full of pressure for the female fighter to be more British, more maidenly, more manly, even. These parts of the story cut to the heart of the feeling we all have about not being enough, and in the end, the book, like every fight, is about far more than winning a boxing match.

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