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The Kings Are Already Here Hardcover – April 22, 2003
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From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up-When Phebe, 15, begins to question her single-minded pursuit of becoming a ballerina, she decides to visit her father in Switzerland. Instead of being a trip to refocus her energy on dance, it evolves into a journey to define herself and her goals. In Geneva, she meets Nikolai Kotalev, an equally dedicated and determined teen whose passion is chess. Her father and his girlfriend have taken the young man under their protective wing and are encouraging his desire to be grandmaster. However, in Nikolai's mind, the only way for him to improve is to be taught by the legendary grandmaster, Stas Vlajnik. Thus the four begin a trek across Europe to various exhibitions and tournaments to find the elusive Vlajnik. This is a beautifully written book about two young people who, until now, have never questioned their chosen careers. More than just a physical journey, the story also follows the spiritual odyssey that both characters undertake. It allows Phebe to grow and change, and it cements Nikolai's devotion to chess. The book also emphasizes the price one must pay for such obsessions. An entertaining read for all young adults, but especially for those seeking answers to life's complex questions.
Sharon Morrison, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Durant, OK
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 7-10. In My Heartbeat, this year's Books for Youth Top of the List winner, Freymann-Weyr focused on the intensity of relationships. Intense emotions are at work here, too, but they are not directed at people. Phebe has devoted her life to ballet, and Nikolai to chess. They meet when Phebe, curious to see if she can let anything else into her life, goes to Geneva to spend the summer with her father, Clarence, who heads an international refugee agency. Clarence has taken in 16-year-old Nikolai, deserted by his bullying father after Nikolai chose another coach--who then left Nikolai in the lurch. The story, long and convoluted as it follows Phebe, Nikolai, and Clarence and his lady friend in search of the elusive coach, is only a framework for the psychological battle that rages in Phebe and Nikolai as they engage their obsessions. Freymann-Weyr's writing can be as elegant as a beautifully played chess game or a perfect pas de deux, and Phebe and Nikolai's alternating monologues are sophisticated riffs showing flashes of both the characters' brilliance and the author's capabilities. Yet, the characters essentially live inside their own heads, with emotions and needs that won't always resonate with young teens. Readers who are willing to stick with the story, however, will find something of substance and, like Phebe and Nikolai, perhaps discover options for their own lives unfolding before them. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
Phebe Knight is training to be a ballerina. Normally she's very dedicated, but lately she has trouble concentrating. Her teachers and mother decide a change of scenery may help, and they send her to Geneva, Switzerland to stay with her father for three months. Phebe's father is a diplomat, and this is how Phebe meets Nikolai.
Nikolai is a fifteen year old chess genius who has recently become estranged from his father who pushed him to extremes to be able to win and make money. Nikolai left his father to pursue his freedom and to study chess with the legendary, elusive, unstable Stas Vlajnik. Phebe is unsuccessful in her desire to focus on ballet, but she becomes, possibly for the first time, genuinely caring towards others. She finally begins to accept things about her father, and spends all her time with Nikolai, studying chess, how he thinks, and trying to help him find Vlajnik.
The second half of the book is spent all over Europe as they travel from chess tournaments searching for Vlajnik. The developments in the characters are nuanced and beautifully and truthfully written. When I finished this book I wanted to read everything by the author, and read up more on chess.
The story itself was equally uncompelling, although perhaps I just wasn't the right reader for the book's story line. I found myself finding excuses not to pick up the book and keep reading, always a bad sign. I never finished it.
When Ms. Freymann-Weyr's next book comes out, I hope to find myself drawn to it as I was to My Heartbeat. Yet there are different books for different people, and perhaps I simply wasn't the right person for The Kings Are Already Here.