The Knockout Queen wrapped its fist around my heart and then squeezed. I mean this literally—the sensation was physical. Rufi Thorpe writes with breathtaking grace and creates a slow build that explodes: the loveability, failings, and deficiencies of everyone, the drift and splintering that time deals to even our closest relationships. The Knockout Queen also has pockets of profundity, both in the adolescent narrator’s wise, shattering musings, and in the grim realities this story contains. Thorpe’s skill makes the experience a pleasure: the effortless dialogue, the wry and funny scenes, and the complex, unforgettable characters that are so human (though it may hurt to admit that humanness can contain a person like the Knockout Queen’s father Ray, who is cut from the same cloth as con man-in-chief Donald Trump, utterly self-serving, with a casual brutality that is beyond redemption. Thorpe reflects our world back to us. I was completely captivated by The Knockout Queen—rushing to consume it but wanting at the same time to savor the rare experience of a book this close to perfect. I wanted it to last and last.
Selected as a Staff Favorite Book of 2020 by Casey, Bookshop's Owner.
“To say I admire The Knockout Queen feels inadequate, though I do admire a great deal of it: its voice, depth, structure — you name it. But it’s more honest just to say I love The Knockout Queen; I loved reading it, I felt involved in it, and, finally, I was so moved by its ending. This is an epic tale of friendship, one where the magnitude sneaks up on you quietly — but when it strikes home, it rings so brilliantly true.”
— Will Walton, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY
FINALIST FOR THE 2021 PEN/FAULKNER AWARD
"Full of verve... Revelatory." —Los Angeles Times
A dazzling and darkly comic novel of love, violence, and friendship in the California suburbs
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.
About the Author
Rufi Thorpe received her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2009. She is the author of Dear Fang, with Love and The Girls from Corona del Mar, which was long listed for the 2014 International Dylan Thomas Prize and for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. A native of California, she currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and sons.
Longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
An InStyle Best Book of 2020
A Kirkus Fiction Writer to Discover in 2020
An Entertainment Weekly, Parade, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2020
"[An] electric portrait of adolescence." —Time
"The Knockout Queen [is] full of verve and sketched in colors as vibrant as a Tilt-A-Whirl David Hockney landscape... Thorpe inverts the more common tale of an impoverished sufferer who is momentarily saved or mourned by a richer, more stable friend. The result is revelatory."
—Hillary Kelly, Los Angeles Times
"Rufi Thorpe unfurls a coming of-age tale that feels both fresh and familiar: a shrewd exploration of all the ways people find to pass on the hurt and anger they’ve been given and a tender, furious ode to the connections that somehow still endure, despite everything. A-"
"One of the most piercing, accurate portrayals of what it means to be a teenager, and figuring out who you are in the world that I've ever come across... Thorpe's ability to capture the ways in which we manifest psychic pain in physical ways is uncanny, and the end result is a coming-of-age novel that is unsettling and resonant in all the most important ways."
—Kristen Iversen, Refinery 29
"This is my favorite book of the year so far.” —Book of the Month Club, Siobhan Jones
"Thorpe’s story immediately enfolds the reader, moving them swiftly forward, swept up in the current. Nothing in this story is as black and white as we may be led to believe life is, or should be. Thorpe explores the humanity of each and every character on the page. 9/10"
"Thorpe comes back swinging with her best novel yet... From the very start, the story is infused with an unsettling sense of menace, which Thorpe skillfully wields to pierce through the veneer of her shiny California setting to honestly examine weighty topics such as friendship, sexuality, identity and belonging... With charismatic characters and a surprising and devastating storyline, The Knockout Queen is a moody and mordantly funny contemplation of the rigors of growing up that will leave readers reeling."
"Thorpe… writes with savage poignancy as she explores identity, adolescent friendship, and the insatiable longing for intimacy. Her novel is devastatingly honest, her characters vulnerable, and her readers will be spellbound.”
"Thorpe’s fierce third novel observes the development of and challenges to an intense friendship between two outcasts at a Southern California high school… Deeply realized and complex. The result cannily dissects the power and limits of adolescent friendship.”
"Thorpe takes a familiar plotline—a pair of teen misfits form an unlikely but life-altering friendship—and turns it into an arrestingly original, darkly comic meditation on moral ambiguity.... There are no victims here and no heroes, either. In Thorpe's Technicolor world, everyone is an innocent and everyone is culpable and no one is absolved, and the result is a novel both nauseatingly brutal and radically kind. Brilliantly off-kilter and vibrating with life."
"A knockout of a novel... beautiful, sad, hopeful, and fully engaging."
—El Segundo Scene
“I loved The Knockout Queen. A blistering, brilliant look at friendship and violence, suburbia and class, all told by one of the most observant, engaging narrators I’ve read in a very long time. This book is going to stay with me.”
—Grant Ginder, author of Honestly, We Meant Well and The People We Hate at the Wedding
“Rufi Thorpe writes with a savage, clear-eyed calm that is frighteningly good. The Knockout Queen unsettled me in the most delicious way with its complex and satisfying relationships and meditation on violence, beauty, and privilege. Read it!!”
—Jade Chang, author of The Wangs vs. the World
“Is it cheesy to say The Knockout Queen knocked me off my feet? I couldn’t put it down, and when I had to, I did so only reluctantly, shakily. With unrelenting humor and terrifying intelligence, Rufi Thorpe tells the story of an unlikely high school friendship—the kind of friendship from which you never recover—with intensity and attentiveness. This captivating, generous book is a moving examination on human motivation, darkness, and love—calling attention to the ways we can be deeply different, and yet so much the same.” —Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
"Fearless, tender, and savagely alive, The Knockout Queen is unlike anything you'll read this year. Rufi Thorpe's third novel is about unruly thoughts and unruly bodies, about violence and love, about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and the drag of human being. You won't be able to look away. You might even recognize yourself.” —Chloe Benjamin, best-selling author of The Immortalists
“The Knockout Queen is an intense, unflinching examination of friendship, the threads that connect us in such strange ways. Rufi Thorpe navigates this difficult terrain thanks to a masterful use of detail and a wonderfully dark sense of humor that lands at just the right moment. Michael and Bunny are two of the most unique characters I've ever met, drawn with such precision that it's impossible to leave them behind. This is a hypnotic, beautiful novel, and Rufi Thorpe is an unbelievably unique talent.” —Kevin Wilson, best-selling author of Nothing to See Here
“The Knockout Queen is the best book I've read in months! Its one-of-a-kind narrator is funny, vulnerable, brilliant, and brimming with longing, and the story he tells distills the pain and beauty of a life-changing friendship like nothing else I've read before. This book's got guts and heart, and wisdom for days, and I could not put it down. Rufi Thorpe is one of the most exciting novelists working today. This novel is truly exceptional. I loved it.” —Edan Lepucki, best-selling author of California and Woman No. 17 "Brilliantly constructed and beautifully told, threaded with heartbreak, honesty and hope, The Knockout Queen is a sublime coming of age story and Rufi Thorpe is a national treasure." —Cynthia Sweeney, best-selling author of The Nest