From School Library Journal
Grade 7–11—Brothers Zeke and Randy differ in their physical appearance, in their attitudes, and in their relationships with their dad, with girls, and, most significantly for this story, in their approaches to chess. Zeke, a senior, seems made in Dad's hypercompetitive, decidedly obnoxious image. He shows prowess in soccer and tennis as well as chess, but is a bit too full of himself. Randy, a pudgy freshman, has developed his game quickly and now beats Zeke pretty consistently. In Scranton for the Northeast Regional of the Pennsylvania High School Chess Championships, thoughtful and relatively laid-back Randy faces his big brother in the semifinals, but not before each boy works his way through several interesting matches in which the author develops both the game strategies and the personalities involved as tensions escalate during the weekend tournament. While their climactic match is not the end of the story, the siblings have begun to see one another as allies while perceiving their father in a different light. This slim book capitalizes on dualities throughout, from the optical-illusion cover illustration to the brothers' transformed relationship, as well as the family crisis to which the title may most aptly allude. Given an untenable position, does one retreat, attack, or concede? Wallace cleverly positions Randy and Zeke for a win-win conclusion in this satisfying, engaging, and deceptively simple story.—Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
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Two brothers endure a weekend chess tournament in this novel told in alternating viewpoints. Zeke, a high-school senior, has an edgier personality than his brother, Randy, a freshman who takes a relaxed, humorous, and savvy approach to life. The brothers are not helped by their jerk of a father, who spouts off clichés glorifying aggression. Both brothers’ voices describe Zeke’s gradual realization that emulating his angry and shallow father will get him nowhere, in chess or in his relationships. Eventually, the brothers meet in a match and grow closer through the experience. Wallace makes a subtle connection between the ability to see potential moves on a board and the ability to see the truth of life, and he tells his story in a series of revealing details. Wisely, he doesn’t let the story go on too long and offers a short novel that presents a fascinating study of two fully formed characters. Grades 8-11. --Todd Morning