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Grandmaster and Commander

Enter the high-stakes world of competitive chess (no, really) with Grandmaster by David Klass.

Grandmaster and Commander

BOOK REPORT for Grandmaster by David Klass

Cover Story: Surprise Big Face
BFF Charm: Stuart Smalley
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: A Little Bit Dramatic
Bonus Factors: Chess, Tournament, Fathers and Sons
Relationship Status: Clubs Week Pal

Cover Story: Surprise Big Face

It may not be a surprise to you, but I first saw this cover as a teeny, tiny thumbnail. So I thought, "Oh, cool -- chess! And it's all classy-like!" But that enthusiasm quickly evaporated when I finally had a copy in my grabby little hands. Why, Big Face, why?! Maybe if I do that farsighted thing and hold the book reeeeeally far away, I can fool myself into thinking it's the sleek cover I thought I fell in love with. Also, that sounds like a YA retelling of Mr. Magoo* waiting to happen.

*HOLD THE PHONE -- Jennifer Garner was in the live-action Mr. Magoo?! MIND. BLOWN.

The Deal:

At Daniel Pratzer's school, chess club reigns supreme. They're only the best chess team in all of New Jersey, so yeah -- they're kind of a big deal. But Daniel's just the lowly freshman noob on the team, flying under the radar. That is, until he and his dad get recruited for a father-son chess tournament. Unbeknownst to Daniel, his dad was a chess prodigy, having achieved the highest title of grandmaster as a teen. 

But there's a reason why Mr. Pratzer stepped away from the game, and participation in the tournament is putting his mental health at risk. As the book's omnimous tagline suggests, the price of victory -- and Daniel's acceptance from his teammates -- might be too high to pay. 

BFF Charm: Stuart Smalley

Daniel's a decent kid, if somewhat friendless; he could def. use a daily affirmation from S. Smalls. If Daniel could see that he's good enough and smart enough, then he might stop investing so much in player rankings and -- Old Alert -- start playing to his full potential, in and out of the game. And once he does, he'd be great BFF material.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There's groundwork for Daniel's first relationship, but kissyface really isn't the focus here. Still, the banter's cute, and the girl in question is a live wire.

Talky Talk: A Little Bit Dramatic

I have no idea what sordidness goes on in the chess world, but I found myself arching a disbelieving eyebrow early on anyway. Daniel's discovery of his father's past seemed like an overreaction -- as if lying about playing chess is the greatest deception ever told. But on second thought, I could totally buy it as believable behaviour for a kid so desperate to fit in. And given that author David Klass used to be a competitive chess player, he gets the benefit of the doubt in the realm of shrewd psyche-out tactics and psychological strains of the game.

Bonus Factor: Chess

Well, obvs. And as someone completely unversed in chess, I didn't get overwhelmed by the lingo -- which would be v. v. easy to do, with a game that intricate.

Bonus Factor: Tournament

Sighhhh, the Olympics just wrapped up, and I already miss them something fierce. So it should come as no surprise that I LOVE all things tournaments! The tight timetable, the heightened pressure, the potential for draaaaamz. If anyone wants to write a YA fictionalization of even the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament, I'd be there in a hummingbird heartbeat.

(Side note: I don't mean to be misleading with all these Harry Potter images, since there's absolutely no witchcraft nor wizardry in this book. But if I have a chance to make multiple HP references, I'mma do it every.single.time.)

Bonus Factor: Fathers and Sons

There's nothing I love more than books that grant me insight into things I'd never be able to personally experience; in this case, it's the exploration of the father-son relationship. Not just between the Pratzers, but a bit from Daniel's teammates and their fathers, too.

Then there are also the universally relatable feelings of wanting to take pride in your parents' accomplishments, and, on the parent end, being a hero in your child's eyes. Y'all, my own parents have had to work since their early teens. I'm so grateful for and in awe of all the hard work and sacrifice that went into building their lives and mine, but I haven't always felt that way.* So all that approval business kind of hit home.

*Kids can be dumbasses, you guys.

Casting Call:

Young Shia LaBeouf as Daniel

Journey back in time with me, if you will (and you will, since I'm the one driving this boat), to the days when Shia LaBeouf was only that goofy kid on that Disney show you never watched. Because that's exactly who I pictured.

Wallace Shawn as Daniel's dad, Morris  

And let's continue time travelling to cast Daniel's father, since the role would be a tad inconceivable for current-day Wallace Shawn.

Relationship Status: Clubs Week Pal

I'm always looking to expand my extracurricular activities, so I tagged along with this book to try out chess. Even though I still can't tell a knight from a bishop, I became immersed in this intense, hypercompetitive world. I've gained mad appreciation for the game, and for the book that introduced me to it.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Farrar Straus GIroux. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Grandmaster will be available on February 25th.

Mandy Wan's photo About the Author: Residing in Edmonton, AB, Mandy unabashedly loves YA lit, frozen desserts, and terrible puns.