The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman
What You Need to Know:|
• This is Meg Wolitzer's first foray into children's literature: she should visit more often!
• The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman is a middle grade novel about a group of endearing 12 year olds finding their way
through the maze that is the beginning of adolescence.
• Scrabble figures prominently in this story, but a knowledge or love of the game is not required to enjoy this very
human story of friendship, family and self-awareness.
• That said, Scrabble fans will be in heaven and the reader's vocabulary can't help but be boosted by a reading of
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman!
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman is mainly the story of three tweens, all from different parts of the country who are striving to compete and win in the fictionalized national Youth Scrabble Tournament (YST) in Yakamee, Florida. The grand prize is $10,000. All three characters have their own personal reasons for needing to win, and it is to this readers great delight we get to go along on the ride with them.
We first meet Duncan Dorfman, who has recently moved back to Pennsylvania with his broke, single mom. He is not thrilled with being the new kid, but he has a special power, and he has decided to use it to get some positive attention from the other kids: he can read words with his fingers. He doesn't have to look at the page, just put his fingers over the words and he can read exactly what is written. When Carl, the resident bully and hooligan, get's wind of this Carl realizes Duncan needs to be his Scrabble partner for YST because Duncan will know what letters he is picking out of the Scrabble bag - they can't lose! Duncan wrestles with the ethics of it all, but he and his mom could really use the prize money to get out of their bad financial situation.
Next we meet April Blunt from Portland, Oregon. April has nothing in common with her jock family. Someone in the family is always jogging, swimming laps or throwing a ball, but April is useless when it comes to sports. Which means nobody in the family really gets her or pays much attention to her. But April is sure if she can use her Scrabble talent to win YST, her family will finally view Scrabble as a sport and accept her as a full-fledged Blunt family member. THe finals of the Scrabble tournament are broadcast on the sports channel, after all!
Finally, there is Nate Saviano from New York City. His involvement is simple; his father lost YST years ago and never got over it. Larry Saviano has put all his shattered dreams on his poor, overloaded son. To the point that a social worker really should step in! Larry decides Nate is wasting time at the public school around the corner, so Larry decides to home school Nate, much to Nate's disappointment. Larry feels there is so much more Scrabble ground they could cover if school would just stop getting in the way.
On the journey to the tournament each character faces real life issues with grace and strength, I admired them greatly. The adults in the book had a lot to learn from Duncan, Nate and April. Wolitzer apparently has a love of scrabble and knowledge of these youth tournaments, her son having competed in them. But the story is so much more than the tournament. Wolitzers humor and keen sense of observation humanizes these kids stories; the same thing she does with her adult literature. Wolitzer fans will enjoy introducing this novelist to their young readers, I know I did!
2011, 256 pages
Moving, Divorce, Single Parent, Family Life, Friendship, Illness/Death, Bullying, Self-Awareness/Discovery, Good Book Club Selection
• Which character in the book did you most identify with? Why?
• Did you think Duncan would use his special power at the tournament? If not, did you think they had a shot at
• Have you ever been the new kid? How did you handle that?
• Which characters did you hope would win the tournament? Why?
• Which adults in the story bothered you the most? Why?
• Were you surprised to find out who Duncan's dad was? Why or why not?
• What is your opinion of Carl and his mom? Do you know anyone like them?
• Do you think Carl's mom behaved appropriately?
• Can you think of any anagrams?
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