These have been published as a one volume trilogy with The Underdog as the first novel. I think Marcus Zusak has a unique writing style that is soothing to read, even when his subject matters are hard. The protagonist of all three stories is Cameron Wolfe, and the main plots center around his relationship with his brother Ruben. Each book is better than the last. I like thinking of reading it as watching Zusak improve in his story writing. If you liked The Book Thief, you might like this. The style is reminiscent, but The Book Thief deals with events of worldwide importance and historical significance, Under Dogs deals with seemingly insignificant events of a limited number of people.
In Fighting Ruben Wolfe, the brothers are recruited into an underground fight club. At the same time, Cameron begins to see himself as different than Ruben. In someways this makes him feel worse about his situation, but in other ways it helps him realize what he wants to become. In this story, several of the chapters end with italicized conversations between the brothers in bed at night after they've turned the lights out. I'm beginning to think that straightforward forshadowing is part of Zusak's signature style. For example he writes, "He did, and soon it will alter the life of my brothe Rube. It will put him in a boxing ring. It will make a heap of girls notice him. It'll make him successful."
Cameron begins writing poetry, or prose, but Zusak doesn't limit this style of writing to his character. At the end of a paragraph he writes, "He's half a man, because it seems when a man can't work and when his wife and kids earn all the money, a man becomes half a mak. It's just the way it is. Hands grow pale. Heartbeat gets stale." It's poetic, but not cheesy.
"The truth is, there's a lot to hate, and a lot to love.
Or, "The moment was cut open. It fell in pieces all around me, and I had no idea what would happen next."
While a lot of the things the boys go through are sad and hard, there are funny, lighter moments. Like walking their neighbor's dog Miffy. "I promise you when we're walking that dog and see someone we know, we pull our hoods over our heads and look the other way. I mean, there's only so much guys like us can get away with. Walking a Pomeranian that goes by the name of Miffy is not one of them." But of course they grow found of Miffy.
In all three stories, there is a lot of focus on the family dynamics. Cameron is very mature in his ablity to see how his actions affect his family members. "It's always bad when someone believes you when you know they shouldn't. You feel like screaming at them, telling them to stop, so you can live with yourself a little easier. But you don't. You don't want to disappoint them."
This entire book can be read pretty quickly. While it' actually 500 pages, there are lots of pages with poems, dreams or dialouge. I liked all three books. I especially felt like the resolution in the last one was well done and realistic. Even if it is really sad on it's way to get there.