A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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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