I am not sure exactly how I feel about The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer. I wanted to really like it, and in some ways I did, but in other ways it just didn’t quite make it for me. But there was enough good in there to make it a book I will recommend to students.
The novel grabbed me right away, and I flew through it. The writing is strong, and it felt to me like Wolitzer captured the language and world of middle school well. And while I wouldn’t call it a mystery exactly, there were some little mysterious elements to the story that kept me engaged and wanting to keep reading.
The main characters, three middle school kids who are all headed to a major Scrabble tournament, each for very different reasons (Duncan because he hopes to win the cash prize; Nate because his father is pressuring him to win in order to avenge his own loss when he competed in the same tournament years ago; and April because she simply loves the game), are all interesting and quirky and appealing. I would happily read a novel devoted to any one of the three of them.
The very thing that grabbed my attention at the beginning of the novel (and would likely grab students’ attention if I read the first few chapters out loud to them) is probably the most problematic part of the book. Duncan Dorfman, one of the three main children, has a strange special power that allows him to “see” with his fingertips. In the world of Scrabble, this means he can reach into the tile bag and know exactly what letters he is pulling out–an obvious advantage at a tournament. As the novel progresses, this special talent isn’t really central to the story, or at least not necessary, and in the end, I felt like the book would have been stronger without that element of magic.
It felt like there were a few too many plots thrown in. The main stories of the three children were all compelling, but a side story about Nate’s dad’s former Scrabble partner didn’t grab me and just seemed like too much. I also felt like the ending of Duncan’s story was too rushed and superficial.
In the End:
In the end, I would recommend this book to kids who like realistic fiction with a bit of a twist; kids who like E. L. Konigsburg (this book has a similar feel to many of her novels); and kids who like to write. And I would definitely recommend it to kids who like Scrabble–there are a ton of neat tips and word lists included in the novel!