The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Common Sense Media says

Misfit finds a place to belong through Scrabble superpower.





What parents need to know

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

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.

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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.

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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Kids say

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 is a bit hard to swallow, especially because it is the only fantastic element in the story. 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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Meg Wolitzer
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Dutton Children's Books
Publication date:September 20, 2011
Number of pages:256
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

This review of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was written by

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  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
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Kid, 10 years old March 8, 2012


This is a really good book. If you love scrabble or word games, this is the perfect book for you! The chapters switch around with who the point of view is but it is not confusing.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models


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