A compelling story about a boy with ADHD. Is this, perhaps, the middle-grade equivalent of Mark Haddon’s now classic The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Felix Schopp spends a lot of time in the isolation room at school. He’s not a troublemaker: he just struggles to concentrate and constantly finds himself asking the first question that comes to mind, irrespective of the relevance to the lesson. Felix almost feels he’s being punished when his parents go away for the weekend, leaving Felix for two whole days with his grandad. And it gets worse when he finds Grandad has a list of ten things he’d like to teach Felix – a list which includes everything from how to clean the patio to how to play chess. To his surprise, however, Felix finds that chess is much less boring than he imagined. In fact, the chess lessons transform Felix’s life and lead Grandad to reveal the horrific secrets of his past.
Stewart Foster has developed a reputation for moving character-driven stories for middle-grade readers and Check Mates doesn’t disappoint. Felix’s first-person voice leads the reader inside the head of someone with ADHD in way that is reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s now classic The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As with Christopher in Haddon’s story, this allows us to truly understand Felix’s thinking and to sympathise with why he so frequently ends up in trouble at school. It also allows us to feel close to Felix and to share his nerves when, after only a few weeks, he begins to compete in various chess championships.
The other characters are equally well-drawn. I particularly liked his best friend, Jake. (although I suspect I would find Jake immensely irritating in real life) and Grandad. I simply loved the details that are used to build Grandad’s personality and world, particularly the bright pink car that Felix finds so embarrassing and Grandad’s obsession with the weather in Germany. There’s also a careful selection of intriguing details about Grandad’s past that work well to develop the plot.
Essentially a character-based story, the plot is rather quiet for most of the book so this probably isn’t the right book for those who enjoy fast moving action. Having said this, the last five chapters are as gripping as any fast moving thriller.
If you enjoyed this, why not try one of Steward Foster’s other books – Bubble Boy or All The Things That Could Go Wrong. Alternatively, for slightly older readers, I think you’d enjoy Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen
Date: June 2019
Publisher: Simon and Schuster