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Check Mates

Book Synopsis

Some people think that I’m a problem child, that I’m lazy and never pay attention in lessons. But the thing is, I’m not a problem child at all. I’m just a child with a problem. Felix is struggling at school. His ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one seems to understand just how hard he finds it. When Mum suggests Felix spends time with his grandfather, Felix can’t think of anything worse. Granddad hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. Plus he’s always trying to teach Felix boring chess. But sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places, and Granddad soon shows Felix that there’s everything to play for.

Our Review Panel says...

Check Mates weaves together the stories of 11-year-old Felix and his lonely grandad in a heartwarming read full of empathy, humour and an encouragement to look beyond the unusual behaviour of others in order to connect with the human stories that lie beneath.

Readers of Stewart Foster’s previous books will have come to expect gritty real-life issues to be unpacked in a hugely compassionate and accessible way through the eyes of a likeable young narrator. This story is narrated by Felix, who struggles to concentrate at school and home because of his ADHD. The early chapters offer stirring insights into Felix’s thought processes and the sense of hopelessness that he feels at his own failure to stay out of trouble at school, ending up in an isolation room time and time again.

Mum organises for Felix to spend more time with his grandad, whose own eccentric behaviour has been increasingly concerning since Grandma died. Felix wonders whether he will ever connect with Grandad, who is often grumpy and likes to sit in the dark at home with the curtains closed. As they spend time together, Grandad teaches Felix how to play chess and the pair forms a bond that brings blessings to each of them in surprising ways.

Stewart Foster is skilled at bringing just the right amount of warmth and humour to his narratives in order to draw the reader to the heart of the issues explored without taking away their serious nature. Young readers will easily identify with Felix and his friend Jake, whose interests and mannerisms are typical of many young people their age. I liked the way in which digital technology was a very natural part of Felix’s lifestyle and was present throughout the story in a very relatable way. A less familiar historical element is also woven in too, with interesting threads about Cold War history that bring with them a number of pleasing plot twists and turns along the way.

Check Mates is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking read that will strike a chord with readers in the 9-12 age bracket.

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