The second and third books in Zusak’s Underdog series were basically a left jab right hook straight in the feels. Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry (aka Getting The Girl) are stronger books than The Underdog. Both novels are still primarily character driven, but they read more cohesively and the writing feels more developed, closer to the style associated with Zusak’s later work. While I enjoyed The Underdog, it’s in the next two books that I feel Zusak really hits his stride, settling into the rhythm of his rugged yet lyrical prose. But it’s what he writes about that really gets to me – not just Cameron’s aching hunger – but the entire Wolfe family and the way they fit together as one tough, endearing unit. It might seem unlikely for such small stories, where some characters only have scant dialogue, but I felt like I knew these people. They have such presence in these pages – their faults and emotions and bonds laid bare, warts and all – raw and vital and alive in the story. Zusak conveys so much about the relationships in this family without having to spell it out. The brotherhood between Ruben and Cameron, which takes centre stage in Fighting Ruben Wolfe, is painfully real and complex. Even when they’re at their worst (yes, I’m looking at you especially Ruben), I couldn’t help but love these characters. All three novels are fairly blunt about what life is like in working class, urban Australia – don’t expect an abundance of political correctness here. But it’s authentic. Zusak portrays a cross-section of society with incisiveness, laying open the reality of the Wolfe’s world without romanticising or embellishing it. It’s evident that this is familiar ground for Zusak in the astute, yet matter of fact, way he writes about it. I’m not going to lie – I cried while reading the last book. Again, it’s subtle, but so much goes on under the surface of the words. Particularly in the relationship between the brothers, and Cameron’s fight for his place, and who he is. There are so many small, quiet moments in this story, heavy with significance, yet never overplayed. With a short scene or a terse exchange between characters, Zusak manages to articulate the emotion that underpin the novels, and inject this story with so much heart and honesty. These aren’t perfect books. They probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.But I bloody love them. * * * * *I'm not crying, it's just raining on my face.