Klass, David. Grandmaster.
February 25th 2014
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Daniel Pratzer feels uncomfortable at his private school. He's not particularly good at anything and having trouble fitting in. When two seniors, Eric and Brad, ask him to participate in a big father/son chess tournament in New York City, he's pleased but confused. He's just a "patzer"-- a beginning chess player who's not very good. He then finds out that his father is the real object of their desire; when he was in high school, he attained the rank of grandmaster but abruptly left the game and never even mentioned it to Daniel or even Daniel's mother. He reluctantly agrees to go, and soon the group is in New York City, staying in a fancy suite and eating fancy meals provided by the wealthy and powerful fathers of Brad and Eric. Also in the city is Britney, Brad's girlfriend, who is pleasant to Daniel. When the games start, everyone is tense. Daniel is beat his very first game by Liu, a girl whose mother said that the official rules didn't require participants to be male, so they signed up. As the games progress, Daniel sees his father get more and more nervous and stressed out, and learns the real reason why his father quit playing. Can the group make it to the end of the tournament, and is winning really the important thing?
Strengths: This was very, very well done. I have never played a game of chess in my life, but this included a particularly brilliant theme that I've not seem often enough in MG/YA literature-- parents as a representation of what their children could become. It seems odd to concentrate so much on the father, but it becomes more about who Daniel wants to be, and how he wants to live his life. His father had special skills and renown (which Daniel doesn't), but he gave them up in order to have a calmer, more productive life. Other great touches include Brad's bad behavior and how his father deals with it, and Britney's reason for breaking up with Brad. I think that this one can be appreciated by any reader who has participated in something competitive. Very good.
Weaknesses: Some of the secondary characters were weak, and I would have given them smaller roles. I didn't quite believe that Daniel's sister Kate spent a lot of time TALKING on the phone. Texting, yes, but I don't know that anyone talks anymore!
My copy of You Don't Know Me fell to bits. Drat. I wish that the "library binding" that publishers use now held up the way that "library bindings" held up 40 years ago!