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The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Review

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Three 12-year-olds will eventually meet when they compete at the annual Youth Scrabble Tournament. Their stories, both separately and together, make for one delightful page-turner.

First up, we meet Duncan Dorfman, whose life has taken a downturn in spite of his newly discovered supernatural power, the one his mother earnestly urges him to keep secret because "If you don't, I'm afraid something bad will happen." Because Duncan's mom recently lost her job, she and Duncan moved back to Drilling Falls, Pennsylvania, the town in which she grew up. Duncan's great-aunt Djuna welcomed them into her house and managed to get Duncan's mom a job at the Thriftee Mike's Warehouse superstore. Unfortunately for Duncan, Aunt Djuna only cooks unappealing vegan fare.

Adding to his misery, his mom buys his clothes from her workplace, which means his wardrobe features shirts the exact hues of mustard, ketchup and relish. Duncan discovered his "power" just recently, when he found he could read through the fingertips of his left hand at will. For five miserable weeks at his new school, where he is mocked and ignored, he keeps his talent secret. But when he lets it slip to his only friend, bad boy Carl Slater overhears…and instantly believes Duncan's power is the way they will win the Youth Scrabble Tournament together. Duncan wants to play Scrabble and to be part of Carl's circle. He also knows his mother could certainly use the contest's prize money, yet he must wrestle with a moral quandary: If he uses his unique talent, is it cheating or not?

Way across the country in Portland, Oregon, April Blunt is planning how she and her best friend, Lucy, will win the Youth Scrabble Tournament. April, the only non-athlete in a family of jocks, wants to prove to her family that Scrabble is a sport and that she is great at it. But that's not all that’s on April's mind. Three years ago, she happened to meet a boy. They played a quick game of Scrabble and seemed to connect in some meaningful fashion, yet she never knew his name or where he lived. Although Lucy tries to help April find this mysterious person who still haunts April, there's not much to go on. Without clues, all April can do is yearn for this missing piece in the puzzle of her life.

Nate Saviano lives with his father in a fabulous New York City apartment, complete with recording booth and indoor skate park, not too far from where his mother lives with her new husband and small baby. It seems like an ideal life, but Nate is far from happy. Although his father has decided to homeschool him, Nate still dresses like he's going to school, straps on an empty backpack, and rides his skateboard down to his old school. In the small skateboard park across from school, he sometimes bumps into his buddy TJ, and Maxie, the magenta-haired math whiz girl he used to pal around with. Then he spends time gazing at the school. He wishes, with all of his heart, that he still was a student there. Instead, his father (who once came very close to winning the Youth Scrabble Tournament) drills him, trying to make him into the next Scrabble champion. Nate's father is so set on transforming Nate into a perfect Scrabble player that he neglects to teach him any school subjects. Nate has to believe that, once he wins the contest, he will be allowed to return to school and his circle of friends.

These three strangers meet on December 12th when they arrive in Yakamee, Florida, for the big contest. Their lives ricochet off each other as they compete, changing their futures and the way they view their pasts in unforeseen ways. Meg Wolitzer’s debut middle-grade novel is a thoroughly enjoyable read with a well-paced plot. The characters are quirky but mostly well-rounded with a few exceptions: Carl, who is a bit of a one-note scoundrel, and two of the adults (Nate's father and his old friend), who seem more like cartoon characters than real people. But these are microscopic nit-picking quibbles in a spectacularly excellent read.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 20, 2011

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
by Meg Wolitzer

  • Publication Date: September 20, 2011
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0525423044
  • ISBN-13: 9780525423041