Rita Bullwinkel's debut novel, Headshot, submerges readers in the minds of eight women fighting in the 12th annual 18-and-under Daughters of America Cup. As each bout of the boxing tournament ensues, Bullwinkel's stunningly intimate look at the physical and mental tug-of-war explores the haunting memories, desperate motivations, and life-altering realizations of each fighter. Pushed and pulled about the ring, under the harsh fluorescent lights, they all hope to be named the best in the country.

The narration's detailed observation gives each participant's thoughts a fast-paced, in-the-moment intensity equal to that of the stakes of their boxing matches: "Eight two-minute rounds, with time-outs and pauses between rounds, is barely enough time for anything at all to happen. And yet, it seems like, within each two-minute round, anything could happen." Bullwinkel (Belly Up) moves seamlessly between visceral physicality and vulnerable interiority--"Every time the referees look in [Andi's] gloves it is like they are saying, You are capable of killing.... Most people in her life don't seem to believe she is capable of anything." The women are forced to muster up long-practiced techniques, willpower, and memories to make it through their match and the pivotal moment in their self-discovery.

Tough exteriors are coupled with strikingly tender inner monologues about growing up and finding one's place in the world. Adrenaline-rich moments reveal why these young women are drawn to the sport, whom they want to impress, or who they want to become. While enticingly earnest, Headshot finds moments of humor in the time-outs between deeply introspective moments. An innovative take on women's boxing and coming-of-age, Headshot is a knockout debut. --Clara Newton, freelance reviewer

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