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“In this house, Kareena Thakkar, we do not quit. We do not give up or give in,” Mama Thakkar. —The Knockout
by Sajni Patel
Kareena Thakkar is very good at Muay Thai, a mixed-martial art. So good, in fact, that she’s been invited to the US Muay Thai Open, which might lead to her landing a spot on the first-ever Muay Thai Olympic team. The only problem? She might alienate herself from the Indian community even further by doing so. Kareena shouldn’t care– as her parents haven’t raised her within the Indian community since they became estranged from it years ago– but Kareena can’t help feeling like she’s not “Indian enough.”
This is especially a problem since Kareena likes Amit Patel, who is the definition of a perfect Indian boy. Liking Amit isn’t difficult. But navigating Amit’s parents’ disapproval of Kareena and Amit’s relationship may prove to be. Not to mention, Kareena has her own friend issues and the big Muay Thai competition coming up. Needless to say, Kareena has a lot on her plate. The breaking point might be Kareena’s father’s health issues and the family’s mounting debt. But Kareena won’t go down without a fight.
Kareena battles other Muay Thai fighters and her own insecurities in The Knockout, and her determination to come out victorious is inspiring. Most importantly, her most human moments are when she’s anxious about her father’s health and has lapses in confidence. Her ability to bounce back from those moments and have faith in herself and the doctors treating her father is remarkable. Kareena is a good example of what it means to get back up after getting knocked down.
The Knockout shows an interesting intersection between religion, culture, and sports. The expectations on Kareena’s shoulders also weigh on the other Indian American characters: Amit and Saanvi, one of Kareena’s ex-friends, compare themselves and their “Indianness” through cultural and religious expectations. Kareena finds herself isolated not only because of her parent’s refusal to participate in many traditional activities and gatherings but also because Kareena is told that Muay Thai is “too violent” for women. However, Kareena finds community in her parents, Amit, and the other female athletes at her high school who support her goals and her love for Muay Thai.
The Knockout is a smart and insightful story about resilience in social situations and in sports. The book also covers Muay Thai, a sport that is not often written about. The fight scenes are exciting and help show Kareena’s strength of character, which drives the plot. Ultimately, Kareena’s story is about self-acceptance and getting back up when you’re knocked down, which is a lesson that everyone can stand to learn.
- Kareena’s friend Lily has unruly hair. Kareena suggests that Lily go natural instead of trying to tame it, and Lily says, “My hair is a horror show of spiderwebs making awful love to twigs.”
- Some girls gossip about Kareena, spreading rumors. Kareena overhears them saying, “First [Kareena] goes after your crush, my brother, while she was talking to Reg? Of course, Travis wants to mess around with her. He probably heard about her hooking up with guys. There’s no way she dated Reg and didn’t do stuff. She probably would fool around with Travis. Why else would he bother flirting with her? Travis is ever only after one thing, we all know that. And he only goes after girls who he thinks he can get.”
- Amit kisses Kareena on her cheek, “on the far left corner of [her] lips.”
- Kareena falls out of her bedroom window and lands on Amit. Kareena and Amit kiss, and Kareena describes, “Our lips touched with an explosion of senses that I didn’t even know existed. His warmth against my skin, the softness of his mouth against mine, the taste of cardamom and pasta on his tongue.”
- Kareena explains that Travis “had gone to senior prom since he was a freshman . . . every prom he’d get that senior girl to rent a hotel room upstairs, get lucky, and then blab about it the next day to all of his buds.”
- Kareena and Amit kiss while working on computer programming. Kareena says, “My stomach did a million flips as I kissed him back.”
- The Knockout is about Muay Thai, a form of martial arts. Kareena and other characters spar during Muay Thai, and physical injuries do occur due to the violent nature of the sport. For instance, one of Kareena’s opponents, Jenny, sports a nosebleed when Kareena punches her during a match.
- Kareena and Amit stare at each other awkwardly while studying for computer science. To stop this, Kareena “lightly punches [Amit’s] arm” and tells him to continue studying.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: badass, hell, crap, freaking, pissed, motha-freaking fans, slut, stupid, dick, prick, damn, and dumb.
- When Kareena turns Travis down for prom, Travis says, “Saanvi must be right. You like girls, don’t you?” Kareena responds with, “Just because I’m not buying your trash? Get out of my face.”
- Kareena makes a comment about Amit being into all the “religious stuff” that comes with being Indian, but Kareena doesn’t explain further.
- Amit invites Kareena to go to Holi at the mandir with him and his family. Kareena describes Holi: “Holi was a yearly thing that drew a butt-load of Indians to celebrate and throw brightly colored powder on each other to the rhythm of vibrant music well into the night. It was not a date thing. It was a family thing. A cultural thing. A community thing. An Indian thing.” Kareena explains throughout the book that her family does not partake in “Indian things” despite being Indian themselves.
- Kareena and her mom sit with their feet on the coffee table, and Kareena jokingly comments, “Forgive us etiquette gods.”
- Kareena compares her non-religious life to that of Saanvi, her former friend. Kareena says, “[Saanvi] observes all the holidays and fasts and prays every morning. We used to do sleepovers at Rayna’s, and she’d bring this portable prayer kit. You know? With a prayer towel, pictures, prayer book, and beaded necklace thing. I don’t know what that’s called. She’d wake up at dawn and face the south of the house, or something, and pray. She used to get mad when I walked in on her, even if we were quiet.”
- Saanvi tells Kareena that according to Saanvi’s parents, Saanvi and Amit are “nakhye,” or promised to be wed to each other. Nakhye is a more religious practice. Amit denies Saanvi’s accusations.
by Alli Kestler