Girl, Fighter depicts the life of a cage fighter in London before and after she suffers head injuries.
‘Girl’, written in third person, introduces us to Aliyah, an Australian mixed race female fighter. Subverting the stereotyped idea of a sport fighter, she is a middle-class software engineer. 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 a fight, during her training. The climatic three-round competition sees Aliyah suffering multiple head-concussions, resulting in a bicycling accident.
The second part, ‘Fighter’, adopts Aliyah’s first person voice as she rouses from a semi-coma in hospital. It describes the symptoms of the injury and complications of her diagnosis. Following discharge, her brain function declines, jeopardising her work and comfortable urban life. Ultimately, the injury leads to a violent episode against Jeremy and she loses everything important to her after the police become involved.
Nonetheless, after Jeremy’s wife Hilary shows Aliyah kindness and acceptance, letting Aliyah know that Jeremy suffered a similar calamity in a skiing accident, the story concludes hopefully. Physical and emotional recovery are revealed to be possible as Aliyah finally overcomes her isolation and reaches out to her family in Australia.
The story examines prejudices about mental disorders and challenges the way invisible illness is often dismissed as merely psychosomatic. Fighters are almost never motivated by violence. Sexism and racism are rarely obvious. And neuroplasticity means that our brains can change and adapt despite severe debilitating conditions. The book endeavours to inspire optimism in those with neurological disorders.
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I have been a martial artist from the age of five and fought in several combat tournaments; I write from experience and also use the inside knowledge of many amateur and professional fighters I know personally, including a former boxing and Muay Thai world champion who is perpetually punch-drunk, a 130kg instructor with 30 years experience who suffered from a brain tumour and a high functioning amateur fighter who got discharged from involuntary psychiatric admission by saying “I feel great”.