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Gr 7 Up—Freshman Daniel Pratzer has managed "to fly under the radar of the cool-and-cruel crowd." To break out of mediocrity, he joins the school's prestigious chess team. Daniel is a novice; in fact, the two team captains call him "Patzer-face" (a "patzer" meaning someone whose chess abilities are minimal). Daniel is shocked when he is asked to join the team at an important, weekend-long father-son tournament, and then he learns the truth. They want him for his father, a former prodigy who became a grandmaster at 16 but gave up the game due to stress. Daniel didn't even know his father could play. At his son's urging, Mr. Pratzer agrees to compete, and Daniel is surprised to see such a killer instinct in this meek, pot-bellied accountant. As the tournament begins to take a toll on his father's health and well-being, he begins to think that maybe skeletons are better left in the closet. Like a well-played chess game, drama unfolds deliberately as things progressively get worse, building up to an exciting, climactic endgame. Daniel is a likable, dorky kid, the underrated everyman with whom readers can empathize and cheer on. The characters reflect on what it means to be a winner, successful, or popular and to lose one's self to pressures from peers, parents, or competition. This book is smart, real, and full of feeling.—June Shimonishi, Torrance Public Library, CA
Chess is a mind sport, one that is all-consuming, both mentally and emotionally. Daniel Pratzer is about to find out what that means, but not in a way he expects. A freshman and a newbie to chess—or patzer in chess lingo—Daniel is approached by the senior chess club cocaptains of his exclusive high school. A father-son weekend tournament is coming up, and Daniel and his father are more required than requested to be there. First prize is $10,000, but Daniel’s father doesn’t play chess. At least, that’s what Daniel thinks. In truth, his father is a Grandmaster who walked away from the game before his life became unbearable. Now 30 years later, he breaks his own vow so he can spend time with his son. Mr. Pratzer soon finds himself competing against an old rival who knows every demon that can destroy him, and Daniel learns that family is more important than acceptance or glory. Fast-paced, inspired writing makes this perfect for fans of John Feinstein’s The Sports Beat series. Grades 7-10. --Jeanne FredriksenSee all Editorial Reviews