Aliyah is a cage fighter. Subverting the stereotyped idea of a Mixed Martial Artist, she works as a software engineer in London. Her life in a male dominated environment is fraught with challenges caused by her race and gender and aggravated by her childhood trauma and consequent aloofness. This is embodied in the character Jeremy, a co-worker who relentlessly taunts and bullies Aliyah. The story begins one month prior to her debut cage fight. Aliyah works hard to balance her demanding job and training regime. At the night of the fight, the three-round tournament sees Aliyah suffering multiple head-concussions, resulting in an accident.
The second part, ‘Fighter’, portrays Aliyah’s struggle with the symptoms of her brain injury and complications of her diagnosis. Following hospital discharge, her brain function declines, jeopardising her work and comfortable urban life. Ultimately, the injury leads to a violent episode and she loses everything important to her.
The story examines prejudices about mental disorders and challenges the way invisible illness is often dismissed as merely psychosomatic.
An entertaining, empowering and subversive read that certainly packs a punch!
Told in two parts, before the fight and after, it follows the life of Aliyah as she finds her own path through very male dominated worlds. Her office job as a computer software engineer, and her path to becoming a professional MMA fighter. Being female in both worlds is not easy, and being mixed race she is no stranger to bullies and not fitting in. Having lost her mother at a very young age, a father that found solace after the loss of his wife in the bottom of a bottle, she was raised by her grandparents, all of which has left its mark on her, impacting on her life. Angry at the world, loneliness and not knowing where she belongs she finds herself inside a gym and it is through the training and fighting that brings her a feeling of empowerment she has never had before.
We first meet Aliyah a month before fight night and we follow her as she pushes her whole body and mind to its limits, juggling work with the gruelling workouts and training. All in preparation for the biggest night of her life. The second part is post-fight, a fight that has left her with a traumatic brain injury. An injury that has a massive impact on her life, having far reaching impacts. This part is also told in the first person perspective so you find yourself inside Aliyah’s head as she deals with the aftermath of the fight.
You don’t need to be a fan or have any knowledge of MMA to read this, everything you need to know is right there in the book. This book is about one woman who is holding her own in two very male dominated environments, sexism, racism, mental health and invisible illness.
Aliyah is a fantastic protagonist who is so well fleshed out she reads like non-fiction, she is believable as well as likeable and you cannot help but feel empathetic towards her. Especially in the latter half, the after the fight part, as she battles with her brain injury and mental health. Her injury is brilliantly written, realistic and is a credit to the author. The fight scene is also spot on. I am a fan of MMA but have no technical knowledge or experience but I could literally see the fight happening right before my eyes.
This book isn’t so much as a book about fighting, it is more so a book about not fitting in, sexism, mental health and invisible illnesses, the stigma that is still attached to mental health. About living with an illness that no one can see, an illness that because it is not visible is either not real or inconsequential. This book is a massive success in highlighting the inner battles hundreds of people battle everyday, and it certainly leaves you with pause for thought.
MMA is fast becoming a mainstream sport with more and more women rising to the top but as of yet not a setting for fictional novels or characters so I knew as soon as I spotted it, it was going to be a must read for me and I was not disappointed! Even if I didn’t like MMA it still would have been a great read. One that will appeal to a wide range of readers regardless of age, sex or fans of the sport.
Girl Fighter was published back in December 2017 and is currently available to read for free via Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited so grab a copy now, you won’t regret it!
A big thank you to the author Cyan Night, publishers Cameron Publicity & Marketing Ltd and NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest and independent review.