The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Misfit finds a place to belong through Scrabble superpower.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 38 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of wordplay, including a killer list of two-letter words, definitions of unusual words, and anagrams (did you know maraschino is an anagram of harmonica?). The rules of Scrabble are explained in easy-to-follow detail.

Positive Messages

Duncan, April, and Nate learn that in order to be happy they must stay true to themselves, despite the social or familial conflicts that arise from their choices. Though each player in the Scrabble tournament has a competitive nature and wants to win, teamwork and playing fair are emphasized. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Duncan learns that to be successful he must take risks, both emotional and physical. April and Lucy are smart girls and know it, and they are comfortable with their intelligence. Duncan stays true to an uncool friend even after he himself gains popularity at school. Nate learns to stick up for himself with his father.


The Scrabble brand is featured predominantly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Duncan unwillingly appears in an ad for cigarettes, but cigarettes are portrayed in a negative light.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book about Scrabble-playing preteens features bullying by both children and parents. Though all of the three main characters sincerely love Scrabble, each wants to play in the national Youth Scrabble tournament because of a desire to fit in or appease a parent or schoolmate. The struggle to be true to oneself despite the pressure of outside influences is a major theme.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bykfordjones May 3, 2016

An accurate intro to The National School SCRABBLE Competition

In this realistic fiction novel, several teams of middle school students are preparing to compete in The National School SCRABBLE Competition. Each team has a... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old August 17, 2019

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

This is a great book- interesting. Duncan is this normal boy who doesn't really fit in. But when he finds out that he can read with his fingertips, his wor... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 19, 2016

The Fingertips Of Duncan Dorfman

The story “The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman” a realistic fiction story,By:Meg Woitzer, Is a about a boy named Duncan Dorfman,and he had moved from Michigan to... Continue reading

What's the story?

Duncan Dorfman discovers he has a power: his fingers can read words just by touching written letters. When a competitive classmate notices Duncan has something special, he drafts Duncan for the school Scrabble team. Meanwhile, April Blunt wishes her sports-obsessed family would acknowledge the importance of Scrabble and wonders if she will ever again see a boy she met years ago. On the other side of the country, Nate Saviano’s father has pulled him out of school, presumably to home-school him, but in actuality to work with Nate on perfecting his Scrabble skills. The three stories intersect at the national Youth Scrabble tournament, where the children forge friendships that go beyond the game and ultimately help each navigate through life’s larger challenges.

Is it any good?

Although Duncan’s newbie Scrabble status gives Wolitzer a handy excuse to explain the game, the premise of Duncan’s magic fingers, the only fantastic element in the story, is a bit hard to swallow. However, Duncan is a likable kid, and readers will sympathize with him as he struggles with the choice of whether to use his newfound power. The supporting stories of April and Nate are equally engaging -- April’s longing to gain the acceptance of her sports-loving family and Nate’s attempt to live up to his father’s expectations will be understood to by many kids, even if they have never played Scrabble. The adults tend to blurt out long-hidden truths that hurry each story to its conclusion, but the tournament scenes are exciting, and the resolution is satisfying.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the choices Duncan was faced with when he discovered his power. Should he have followed his mother’s advice when he first discovered what he could do? What would you do if you were given Duncan’s power?

  • Nate's father puts a lot of pressure on him to win, while April’s parents virtually ignore her passion for Scrabble. Was the way these characters cope with their imperfect parents believable? How would you deal with a parent who is being unreasonable or unfair?

  • How does the boy April met briefly at the motel pool years ago affect her? Have you ever been deeply influenced by someone you barely know?

  • Duncan’s mother kept an important secret from him. How do you think the truth that Duncan discovers will change his life? Which will have a deeper effect on him, this truth or Scrabble?

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