Perpetual Check by Rich Wallace

28464331Lynn: Rich Wallace is a favorite author of mine. I can’t tell you how many 9th grade boys decided reading wasn’t so bad after they tried Wrestling Sturbridge or Shots on Goal. I also love books about chess so Wallace’s newest called out to me from the moment I saw it. Start with two brothers. Zeke is a senior, stars in soccer and tennis and checkmated his hyper-competitive father at age six. Freshman brother Randy, a little pudgy but popular, has a great girlfriend and can beat Zeke nine games out of ten. Set them down in the Pennsylvania Regional Chess Tournament. Add their obnoxious do-anything-to-win father and stand back. While the action is more mental than physical here, the suspense is high as Wallace takes the readers through each match with escalating tension. The heart of Perpetual Check (Random/Knopf, 2009) though lies in the evolving relationship between the Zeke and Randy as they tentatively establish a new bond with each other, realizing they have more in common than dealing with their father.

I play chess badly but I found the matches intriguing. Wallace describes each player’s mannerisms and style as well as just enough of the actual moves to get the sense of the game. I also admire the subtle themes woven into this short book, especially the issue of how to handle failure. Zeke has always been full of excuses for any loss: sore wrist, loss of momentum, lousy ref. His biggest victory in the tournament is realizing that sometimes your best effort just isn’t enough and that is OK.

Cindy: Let’s start with the cover. Check. Is that not an awesome take on the classic optical illusion of vase/face? Love it. And the title. Perpetual Check. Readers who want to know more about this move, which is a metaphor for the family relationship as well as the chess play, can see an animated demonstration here. Then there’s the structure of the novel. Check. It proceeds back and forth between the brothers and back and forth between present tense and flashbacks of earlier situations just like the alternating moves in a chess match. And my favorite scene. Check. Zeke locks himself out of his hotel room after curfew and can’t get a new key without getting busted, but Randy takes pity on him and lets him stay in his room. A new, tentative relationship is forged that night through a bag of M&Ms, a loaned pair of sandals, and smart-ass brotherly repartee. And then there’s the page length. Check Mate. Checking in at a perfect 112 pages, this is a tightly edited, slim novel that will appeal to teens with full schedules that leave them with less reading time than they might like. Oh, and Tuesday, May 11th, was the anniversary of the 1997 chess match between reigning world champion Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue Computer. Game over.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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