Monday, January 27, 2014
ARC Review: Grandmaster
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
Scheduled to release February 25
Source: Received an e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Whew-who would have thought the world of chess could be so traumatizing and draining? I sure didn't when I picked up this book. Last week I featured Grandmaster in my Waiting on Wednesday post highlighting its unique focus on chess, something I don't remember seeing covered in a YA title before.
The plot is very simple. Daniel is a newbie in chess club who is recruited to participate at an elite Father-Son tournament with the senior captains because his father Morris is a grandmaster, completely unbeknownst to Daniel himself. The pair attends, digging up repressed memories and regrets while making new memories and bonding with each other.
As I said, I was amazed by how stressful chess can apparently be. The members of each team play five games with their rank constantly being assessed and updated, fluctuating every time as the mighty and overconfident fall and the humble and clever prevail. Daniel, despite being a virtual newbie, manages to eke out a few wins but the stress his father pushes himself through overshadows all. This was what I found so striking. It seems as if sitting and concentrating so intently are far more dangerous than I would have assumed, leading to neurotic breaks and seriously unhappy lives. Morris got out as a child and hid that side of himself from his wife, searching for a peaceful life with a spouse, children, and a steady predictable income. Playing these games against those eager for blood pushes him almost past the breaking point.
Though the father's dark journey plays an important role, it is counterbalanced by some lighter teenage moments. Daniel is a freshman and supremely awkward yet he manages to navigate a new relationship while the two older boys have challenging relationships with their own demanding fathers contrasting with Morris' more low-key approach. I'll admit that I preferred these lighter moments needing them to make it through Morris' demons.
Overall: An intriguing psychological novel that has several unique touches setting it apart from other titles on the shelf: the strong father-son relationship, a relatively compressed time frame as we cover just a weekend, and of course the chess angle. I would probably recommend this solely to fans of contemporary titles rather than those who lean more toward fantasy.