Wow. I've been waiting to read a book like this. I've been pretty vocal about my lack of 5 star reads so far this year. It's March 1st as I am writing this review, and this is the first book I have read that I am giving that rating to. It's the only book that gave me that emotional extra feeling that I need for a book to go above and beyond my expectations. It's a personal thing, reading. A lot hinges on whether a book will be a favorite for each individual reader, but the one thing that generally makes or breaks a book for me is the characters. It just so happens that I very much related and understood the characters in this book, and in order to explain that, I need to get a little bit personal, and I will, but first I need to state that this is why reading is so subjective. I related to and loved these characters because of my personal experiences which are not the same personal experiences that you share, so who knows if this will be as special a book for you as it was for me. But all I can do is report how I feel and why it worked for me. And so I shall.
I grew up an only child in a household with two parents who loved me very much, but my mother was the one that was in my life the most, because my dad seemed to always be working. He worked his ass off so we would be provided for, and this didn't leave him with a whole lot of free time, and he did the best he could to spend time with me and my mother and be huge parts of our lives. It is for this reason that the time I spent with my father as a kid stands out to me in my mind probably the most. SO many of the childhood memories I have involve him and the things we did together: fishing, racing cars down the hall, and I still remember him giving me these HUGE portions of food while my mother was off at bingo with my grandma. He thought I could eat way more than I could and I would sit there and not be able to finish, but he wouldn't let me leave the table until I ate most of it. I laugh now, but at the time it was traumatizing. Most of the memories I have are great. Carving pumpkins, trick or treating...so when I got into this book and started to grow attached to Daniel and his father (who works many hours and doesn't have much time to spend with his son), obviously the closeness and awkwardness that they share touched me in a very sentimental way. Daniel's a teenager now, and his dad doesn't really know how to talk or communicate to him that well (I relate to this as well, as an only-child teenage girl with boy problems, what is a father to do?).
So the fact that this book is about chess and a chess tournament never even really mattered to me. I requested it because I thought it was an interesting concept, and I wondered if the author could actually pull this off and make a book about chess (just about the most boring game EVER to watch) exciting. the answer to that is yes. This book is so well paced that it moves like an action film. Every word has importance. Every sentence flows into the next. It's a page turner, and at only 227 pages, it is a book that I was able to finish in one sitting, which is an admirable feat for me. My attention span has been short for a while now, and for a book to be able to hold my interest all the way through like that, well it's something.
The plot goes a little something like this. Daniel goes to a private school where chess is not as nerdy as it is in public school. Some of the boys on his chess team are the most popular kids in school, and one in particular is a monstrous bully and asshole to everyone around him. Well, he talks Daniel into participating in a father-son chess tournament in New York City. See, Brad has found out that Daniel's father was a Grandmaster 30 years ago, and with him on the team, they know they can win. The only problem with that is there is a reason why Daniel's father quit playing chess in the first place. Obviously, I am not going to tell you this because it would be a huge spoiler, but you should know it is worth reading to find out. I would really like to see this book be made into a film. Honestly. There is also an incredibly cute romance that has enough of an impact but doesn't take over the plot. All the characters are vivid with lovely ARCs. I cannot recommend this book enough.
I have one small complaint, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention it. It's not nearly something that is worth knocking off even a half star for though, so you really shouldn't worry. But there were a couple of times in the narrative where I felt it was obvious that Daniel was not a teenager. There are words he uses that I do not feel a teen would use. For example: