Review: Check Mates by Stewart Foster

Check Mates

Once again, I have to thank the members of #PrimarySchoolBookClub for introducing me to the work of an amazing author, Stewart Foster. I loved this book and found its storyline and central relationship utterly compelling.

Felix Schopp is in his first year at secondary school,  we are introduced to him in the isolation room, or as Felix terms it, “the staring at the wall club”. Felix is a regular visitor to this room as his ADHD means that he cannot help himself from getting into trouble for being disruptive in class. He cannot concentrate on anything for even a short time, he is unable to sit still, he asks inappropriate questions and becomes frustrated with himself when he cannot read a passage or answer questions.

The story is recounted in the first person by Felix so that we are offered an insight into the thoughts and frustrations of a child with ADHD. Felix is an immensely sympathetic character and he is aware that “People think I don’t care, but I do, it’s just that I can’t help what I say or the funny expression they say I have on my face.”

His teachers are exasperated, his over-worked parents are annoyed with him and his grandfather embarrasses him daily by collecting him from school in a pink car! When his mother suggests that he should spend more time with his granddad, it seems that Felix’s life could not get any worse.   

Granddad is another perfectly realised character. He seems to have sunk into depression since the death of his wife the previous year, which to Felix manifests as sitting grumpily on the sofa, hardly ever leaving the house, keeping the curtains drawn all day, preserving the memory of his late wife by holding onto all the pink objects she owned but never actually discussing his emotional turmoil caused by her loss. It is clear that Felix adored his emotionally available grandma and misses her hugely and feels sympathy for his granddad whilst being confused at his reluctance to mention the “d” word.

The book takes flight when Granddad decides that he will teach Felix how to play chess, in the hope that it will improve Felix’s powers of concentration and additionally to share his great love of the game with his grandson. The slow change in their relationship is acutely observed and absolutely grips at your heartstrings. On top of this the two school friends Jake and Rebecca are completely authentic and their often conflicting influences on Felix add another level of brilliance to this book.

I don’t want to discuss the plot in any more detail for fear of spoilers; it does contain descriptions of chess games but I don’t think this would detract from your enjoyment of the story even if you had never played chess yourself. Throughout the story you feel that an unexpected twist is building, but when it comes I think you will be surprised.

I was greatly impressed with Stewart Foster’s writing style. Short chapters, full of short sentences and lots of dialogue, reflecting Felix’s short attention span. This makes the book a fast-paced read, and is likely to add to its appeal to those readers who don’t enjoy struggling through long, complex sentences. It also manages to weave a great deal of humour in amongst all the emotion. One line I particularly loved was Felix’s observation after playing a very irritating opponent: “I bet the Mechanical Turk never ate Doritos.” I was genuinely moved by the powerful, emotional bond between Felix and Granddad and by this story’s message that we all need someone to really believe in us, to spur us on to succeed. Highly recommended for readers of 10+.

If you loved the central theme of this book, then try The Cardturner by Louis Sachar, if you are fascinated by chess and developments in AI, try Deep Thinking  By Gary Kasparov.

the cardturnerDeep Thinking





This is #Book6 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books.

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