Subversive Reader Reviews: Chess Nuts (AWW2013)

Book reviews and AWW posts can be found here.

AWW2013 – Book 20

Chess Nuts

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: Chess Nuts

Julia Lawrinson
Children’s Contemporary Fiction

Library Book, Moreton Bay Regional Libraries

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A little while ago I wrote about Julia Lawrinson’s Losing It, which I quite disliked. I’m pleased to say, that I enjoyed Chess Nuts, a middle grades fiction by Lawrinson, about 100 times more than Losing It!

Chess Nuts is told through the perspectives of two children in their final year of primary school. Jackson is the sporty and popular kid, Anna is the wordy, chess playing outcast. When Jackson turns up at chess club, no one expects him to stick around, and Anna definitely doesn’t want him there. However, with the help of each other they discover how to become more accepting of each other and others around them.

I really enjoyed the two main characters. Jackson is fairly typical of the ‘sporty kid who enjoys music/dance/chess’ character that you see a lot of in children’s books – and occasionally in real life. The story with his father definitely adds another dimension to him, as does Anna’s struggles with the relationship she has with her brilliant, but not necessarily empathetic mother. Anna is defiantly smart – when she’s forced to run the cross country, she deliberately walks it. She throws out witty, wordy insults, but she’s really not accepting of anyone she thinks may not be as smart as she is. These two characters together are really interesting, though I’m very glad Lawrinson kept away from any kind of romantic plot.

There were some parts that bugged me. A lot of the supporting characters are very one dimensional, like in Losing It. This particularly annoyed me in the case of Josh, who is stereotypically a person with Austistic Spectrum Disorder – all the time. We’re never shown the shades of up and down that most people with ASD have. There’s also the use of the word ‘retard’ as an insult. While people are told off for using it, I still detest seeing it used in that way, without addressing why it’s so grating. There are plenty of other insults that bullies use, or a simple comment from a teacher about why it shouldn’t be used would have been better, rather than keeping it in circulation as an insult.

Although those things did bug me, this was definitely a book with the kind of empathy and heart that was missing from Losing It. I know a lot of reviewers raved about Losing It, I much prefer Chess Nuts for its exploration of what it means to be smart, belong to certain ‘groups’ at school, and how the game of chess can be enjoyed by everyone.

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