The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
By Meg Wolitzer
Published by Dutton Children’s Books
Copyright © 2011
I enjoy playing Scrabble®, but I never would have thought that they actually held Scrabble tournaments. I also didn’t think that I would ever be reading a novel about Scrabble, never mind being completely sucked in by it, but Meg Wolitzer has done just that.
Duncan Dorfman and his mom have moved from Michigan back to Drilling Falls, PA where his mom is originally from. She lost her job in Michigan and her Aunt Djuna has invited them to come stay with her, and has lined up a job for her at Thrifty Mike’s Warehouse. Soon after he arrives at his new school, as is so common with new kids, he becomes the target of the resident jerks. Duncan just can’t take it anymore, so he decides to show them his power. This gets him and automatic invitation to the Scrabble team.
April Blunt lives in Portland, Oregon with her sports crazy family. All of her siblings are large and athletic, while she is small and brainy. Her family just can’t understand her enjoyment of Scrabble, and she can’t understand why they don’t see her chosen game as real sport; a sport of the mind.
Nate Saviano is a skater boy from New York City. All he wants to do is ride his skateboard, listen to his music, and go to public school like a regular kid. His dad, Larry, has decided that he wants him to be homeschooled so that he can spend every waking hour training him to win the Youth Scrabble Tournament; the same tournament which haunts him to this day, because he lost there so many years ago.
These three, and their partners, will come together for a competitive and fun filled weekend in Yakamee, Florida for the National Youth Scrabble Tournament. They all have different reason for wanting to win, but no matter what happens their lives will change forever after this event.
In this book Meg Wolitzer emphasizes the need to be honest in all of our dealings, because it will inevitably come back to haunt us somehow. In that vein, one of the few things I would change about this book is that Meg doesn’t go all the way in making Duncan come clean about his dealings. All in all though, she really does emphasize honesty. I also appreciated how she highlighted the theme of acceptance. Each of our three main characters, and even some peripheral characters, are seeking acceptance in some way from family, schoolmates, or tournament acquaintances. It really carries a subdued anti-bullying message which is so important today.
In the way of criticism – In the beginning the author seems to be telling separate stories that seem a bit disconnected, even when you realize that they are bound to culminate in these characters meeting at the Scrabble tournament. She does meld them together fairly well though. I also feel that there are places in the book that the author builds the reader up for conflict that never really comes to fruition. However, Wolitzer did such a good job of creating hanging questions and of accumulating likeable and less-than-likeable characters that nearly anyone could relate to, that it kept me wanting to know their answers and outcomes.
Wolitzer has written a very engaging book for children ages 10 and up. If it were merely about Scrabble it would bore me out of my mind. However, she has really written us a book about family, friendship, honesty, and acceptance that everyone should enjoy. If you are a diehard Scrabble Gamer you love this book all the more for its description of game scenarios and its explanations of the finer points of the games including many word lists. Game On!