New Adult Tropes: 20
“Welcome to this century. Women can do everything men can. Including fight.”
Where to start with Shadowboxer? This book includes so many topics: verbal abuse, domstic abuse, sexual abuse, kidnapping, death of (more than one) family member, prostitution, underground fighting, estranged parents, protecting a younger family member, money troubles, a rich guy feeling sorry for himself, trust issues, slutshaming, misogyny... are you exhausted yet? We'll take it from the start.
Mia is a female underground fighter. She's in it for the money she desperately needs so that she and her younger sister Carly can move away from the city. In the beginning, Mia went into prostitution (oral sex only), but then went into the fighting scene, but is also working at a bar. For months she's been training to set up a fight with the famous underground fighter Tray "Fox" Knox so she can get the money she needs. Tray is the golden boy that got tired of living good life with the money his parents gave him. Tray dropped out of college and went into the underground fighting scene. When a chance meeting have them cross paths, Tray is immediately drawn to Mia in ways he doesn't understand. Mia on the other hand, wants nothing but a fight from Tray. What follows is a long push and pull of Mia wanting Tray, hooking up, and then pushing him away. It goes on for more than half of the book, with little else to add into the plot.
Basically, there's no plot. It's all Mia and her trust issues (which aren't brought up until somewhere around the 40%-60% mark) and Tray endless longing for Mia. This is supposedly a MMA fighter story, but there's almost no fighting going on, only a few mentions of their workouts. There are two big fights looming in the future at the beginning, but neither of them happens. In the end, it's all about their lust for each other. So let's take a look at our main characters. Introducing Mia:
I wasn’t some quivery female caught in the storm of my emotions.
Mia is the heroine with an disdain toward anything female or feminine (which kinda changes once she lets Tray into her life). She's a fighter that can (apparently) take on any fighter, male of female. She comes from a troubled childhood filled with parents dying, and on top of that, she was kidnapped and sexual abused for several months. You'd think this would play a bigger role in this story, but it doesn't (apart from when Tray makes it all about himself). It's brought to light somewhere in the middle of the story, and Mia has two (I think) panic attacks due to memories from her time in captivity. Other than that, it isn't that big a deal, or it doesn't come off as it when in her POV. Once again, New Adult uses sexual abuse as a plot device, and in this case, a backdrop for the romance. It's difficult to care for Mia; she's mean and her (as above mentioned) disdain for female and femininity is cringe worthy.
Now, here's the best of Tray "Fox" Knox:
My knowledge of the thought processes of females was practically nonexistent.
I’d kill for her in reality, maybe because no one else ever had.
“I can deal with Sandra Bullock,” I muttered, grateful that Slater wasn’t around to hear me turn in my man card.
If it's hard to care or like Mia, it's even harder to give a single fuck for Tray. He's the kind of guy that is all don't need my parents or their money, fuck them while still having them pay for his Ivy League college, his apartment, and his new car. Please tell me more about how hard your life is. To be fair, he does come from a family where his father abused (verbally and physically, from what I gather), his mother. And Tray has a policy that a real man never hits a woman. A policy that obviously doesn't apply to his mother, since Tray doesn't really do anything to help his own mother to get out of an abusive relationship. He does however feel the need to protect a female stranger that appears to have been in a fight (Mia) from the second he lays eyes on her. Good guy, right?
Moving on. When he finds out that Mia was kidnapped and sexually abused and later prostituted herself, he somehow makes it all about himself.
How could I be ready to listen to her talk about being hurt? How could I ever let her put her mouth on me and not think she was imagining a money transaction afterward?
Add in the usual, Mia's not like other girls, deserves better than an alley fuck, and the usual "my girl is a special snowflake" mentality, you have Tray. (I'd mention the secondary characters, but they were all flat and boring, they're barely worth mentioning.)
Moving on to the fighting aspect. It's ridiculous. Throughout the book, there's the theme that Mia is the best fighter ever. Tray describes her as tiny, but fit. She's feet shorter than him, and he outweighs her greatly. Yet, she thinks she can take him in a fight. How? No clue. Look, I agree with the initial quote: women can do anything men can, but there are limits. Biologically, men are (generally) stronger, taller, heavier. A trained male fighter will 99% of the time win over a female fighter. That's biology, nothing you can do about it. The last 1% is all about luck and coincidence. Nothing in the story indicates that Mia is delusional otherwise, but this is both delusional, and frankly, a bit suicidal. I believe this story would've done better (on the fighting aspect) if it had focused on the difference between male and female sports, especially society's view on it.
Going back to Mia's past abuse and prostitution. There's a huge gap about how her life after she escpaed her kidnapper/abuser and the present. Why did she enter prostitution? How did she do it? How old was she? How did she reason? Because she had a job (bartender), how bad was it for that she felt the need to prostitute herself? Or was she of the mentality that prostitution is just another job? It's never explained. There's also little time over for dealing with her past abuse, both in the past and in the present. As it is, it reads like it is Tray's magical dick that somehow saves her, which is an angle one should never take in fiction. It is insulting to victims of sexual abuse to keep up this mentality that a man (or woman) can cure you from the trauma by sex. It should be with professional help and support from trusted and loved ones.
Last, apart from all mentioned above, the writing is very amateurish. Tray for example, has two different sides: the one we see in his POV and the one from Mia's. They are at times almost two different people, who speaks and thinks differently. Add in awkward and painful methafors such as this one:
By the time Mia emerged in her sports bra and a pair of tiny bike shorts that made her ass look like a pair of puffed-up marshmallows suspended on two sexy sticks, I was considering a number of sexual harassment suits.
To sum up this book: poor execution and no sensitivity when it comes to heavy topics.