Suckerpunch, published by HarperTeen in 2007, is David Hernandez’s debut novel. Hernandez is an award-winning poet who turns to fiction in this coming-of-age story.
Suckerpunch takes places in the summer just before Marcus’s senior year. He lives with his mother and brother, Enrique, who suffered years of physical abuse from their father. For about a year, their father has not been a factor in their day-to-day lives because he moved out; however the scars from the abuse (and Marcus’s guilt in having witnessed it) remain.
The novel begins with Marcus’s description of a funeral for the father of his friend, Oliver. Marcus recounts how he has daydreamed about killing his own father using a switchblade, then a hammer, then a baseball bat. The hate is visceral. As everyone is leaving for the burial, he and Oliver stand motionless watching everyone depart. Marcus does not know what to say.
Marcus finds relief from his own family's troubles by spending time with his friends. Alcohol, sex, and drugs have become a refuge for him. His brother Enrique also has difficulties coping with the past. The boys struggle, but they are relieved that their father is no longer living in their home.
Everything changes when they learn that their father wants to return home and that their mother is considering this idea. Enrique, Marcus, Ashley (Enrique’s girlfriend) and Oliver leave on a trip to confront their father directly. They make a plan to scare him with a fake gun to prevent him from coming back home. On their trip, problems arise. Enrique forgot to pack his anti-depressant medication and he is having trouble holding himself together.
Critics note that this novel is quite dark. The boys frequent drug use, the coarse dialogue, and stories of parental abuse are difficult to read. The title, of course, refers to an unexpected blow or punch to the eyes. In one sense, a suckerpunch is a metaphor for being a teenager and for learning how to deal with “blows” that set you off course. The characters in this novel offer a rougher portrait of a suckerpunch as they experience the effects of real abuse by a parent.