‘Gloves Off’ by Louisa Reid is a novel that focuses on main character Lily’s journey in her final year at school, looking into her relationship with mother Bernadette, the struggles in her family life and how in school she is ruthlessly bullied and isolated by her classmates. She finds hope, friendship and confidence when she takes up boxing in order to fight back against her bullies.
Louisa’s novel is very important in highlighting issues of bullying, body shaming and social stereotypes in schools, as it does not sugar-coat the hardships, insecurity, and isolation that some teens feel during school. In particular, this book does not shy away from bullying or how body image can be used as a factor to make young girls feel worthless. The main character, Lily, is a strong protagonist, who is tormented throughout the novel because of the way she looks, yet chooses to stand up and fight back, channelled through her boxing journey;
‘it’s hard work. jane doesn’t make allowances expects me to keep up. Instead of running away I hit harder. Instead of hiding I pant and struggle’ (p.149)
The journey that Lily goes on is extremely important, but is absolutely heart-breaking to read;
‘She watches herself, pouts and preens likes what she sees, turns to me. now it’s my cue. I can nod, look up, exist for a moment, now my opinion is required.’ (p.29)
This quote is especially hard to read as Lily does not believe her opinion matters enough to be expressed because of how she’s treated by her peers. It’s saddening that anyone, even a fictional character, feels so isolated and worthless that they feel that they have to ask permission from another person to voice their thoughts, with their opinion seen as not valid the rest of the time.
The connotations of bullying through body shaming are not particularly easy to read either – but it emphasises that it is a problem that is extremely important to stamp out. Body image is something that is always on the majority of teenage girls’ minds, because of the expectation to look a certain way by both mainstream and social media.
‘I won’t wear clothes that show my stomach or arms or short shorts that show my thighs. Nothing that that clings or reveals or would make someone notice I’m here’ (p.138)
Overall, Louisa’s use of verse matched with important issues of bullying and body image allows the reader to go on a journey with Lily, as she finds self-worth and friendship through boxing and grows into a young adult who feels that her voice and presence is important and that her bullies will not silence her.
We recommend this book for readers age 12 years and above.