I have wanted to read Championess by Tarun Shanker for a bit now, but things kept getting in the way from actually reading. But about a week ago (as of September 15, 2021) I found a copy. Shanker’s book was an amazing piece of history, a great story of sisters, and even had a little romance. Based on Elizabeth Wilkinson, a bare-knuckled boxer, I was excited to learn of the down and dirty, nasty, corrupt, ugly world of boxing in the 1700’s. The story of why our main character boxed (to help earn money to get her sister out of debt, put food on the table, and keep a (basic) roof over their heads) was what kept you going. But when you see also, the fact that she liked to fight was her real reason for fighting, the character comes alive in a different way. She fought the system for its treatment of biracial people (she is half Indian-half English). She fought the system of the treatment of women. She fought the system because of how they kept the poorer people locked in a section of town. She fought because she was angry at her father, her mother, a former friend, and of course, even herself.
I became so interested in this character I wanted to learn more about her. When I found an article about her, I was disappointed to learn of the extreme changes from the real person. To say it is based on a real story then to have a major change like her nationality felt like a “bait and switch” to sell the book. I figured as a woman and the time it was set there might not be a lot about her, but I was upset about the obvious changes (her nationality was not the only major difference). However, if you take it as inspired by the times and how it shows how people were treated due to race, gender, and social standing, plus a bit about debts and debtors prison, and the event of women’s boxing it is still a great book. Just do not look for it to be accurate for information on Wilkinson herself. However, it does seem like some of the other main characters based on real people are a tad more historically accurate.
The illustrations are raw and strong. Kelly Zekas gets down and dirty as the text and subject itself. You see the mud, blood, and ale. You hear the cries of the crowd to “show her tits” and see the sneers of the men, the other boxers (male and female) and the growing feelings between characters. The black and white aspect is perfectly suited for the subject and tone of this graphic novel.
Some images and language could be triggers for some readers. Therefore, this is for at least ages 14 to adult. Yet, if you know your reader, some younger teens could read.