This month’s selection for our February Book Club Day is “Grandmaster” by David Klass. Overall, we all enjoyed the father-son relationship in the story, and the way the book will remind teens that their parents were people with interests and passions before they got married and had children. Although some of us found the technical parts about chess difficult to understand, others found it one of the reason the book is compelling. One thing we could all agree on is that “Grandmaster” was an entertaining and quick read. Read our reviews and enter to win a giveaway below. Many thanks to Macmillan Teen for sending us copies of “Grandmaster” to review.
Freshman Daniel Pratzer gets a chance to prove himself when the chess team invites him and his father to a weekend-long parent-child tournament. Daniel, thinking that his father is a novice, can’t understand why his teammates want so badly for them to participate. Then he finds out the truth: as a teen, his father was one of the most promising young players in America, but the pressures of the game pushed him too far, and he had to give up chess to save his own life and sanity. Now, thirty years later, Mr. Pratzer returns to the game to face down an old competitor and the same dark demons that lurk in the corners of a mind stretched by the demands of the game. Daniel was looking for acceptance—but the secrets he uncovers about his father will force him to make some surprising moves himself, in Grandmaster by David Klass.
Young Reader Average: B
Tyler graded the book a B
The main character, Daniel, begins as your typical cookie-cutter freshman with no unique skills or talents, belittled by his typical cookie cutter jock upperclassmen and living with his typical cookie cutter sitcom-esque family. However, if you take the time to look past this, you’ll find a gripping and insightful telling of Daniel’s journey to becoming an adept chess player, and of his father coming to terms with his complex relationship with the game.
The story finds its footing as it delves into its most interesting character, Morris Pratzer. Don’t get me wrong, our protagonist becomes a fairly strong character himself, but his father is who truly carries the story. The hook begins with him, when at the mention of his past-life, he instantly goes from a mild family man to an irrational unstable former champion. His initial reactions seem unrealistic at first, but as the book goes on, you’ll see they are completely in line, and perhaps subpar, with his character. You’ll want to know more; why does he act so violently towards chess when he clearly reveres it. In short, he’s a basket case you’ll love to dissect.
Daniel himself is entertaining to watch as well, growing in mere days from the meek “Patzer-face” to a player skilled enough to take on experts. His feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and of finally beginning to realize his potential are relatable to anyone who’s ever competed in something. The other players on the team, the Chisolms and the Kinneys, begin rather uppity and unlikable, almost to cartoonish extents. The two captains, Brad and Eric, are the average quarterback-type bullies, copy and pasted into the chess club. Their fathers cocky, businesslike, and demanding of their sons. Following a confrontation at a steakhouse, the fathers start to act more realistic, adding to a sense of camaraderie, but the captains themselves see little improvement. The other characters suffer from underdevelopment, and are generally one-dimensional and forgettable.
The notion may seem laughable, but in this story, chess is serious business. It truly is, as Morris says, all out war, and you’ll find yourself cheering for bloodshed as you read the Mind Crushers’ confrontations with their various proficient opponents across the table. Chess may be war, but it is also something deeper. If there is a take away from this story, it is the profound changes the game can bring about. It can bring people of completely different temperaments and backgrounds together, as is the case with the Mind Crushers. It can also create divides, as was the case with Morris and fellow chess player, Stanwick. And as is the case with Morris himself, it brings out your best and your worst, your proudest moments and your darkest regrets. It starts off bumpy, sure. But all that is forgotten once you’ve passed that initial awkwardness, which won’t take long. You’ll likely finish the entire thing in one or two sittings.
Erin graded the book a B
The book “Grandmaster” by David Klass follows Daniel, a high school student that joins his school’s chess team. Though he tries hard, Daniel is a novice player with mediocre skills and this leads to the ridicule of more senior players. When Daniel is invited to play in a father/son chess tournament by the chess team captains, he assumes there has been a mistake as his skills are lackluster and his father, battling his own daemons from the past, has openly refused to touch a chess board. As Daniel begins to investigate, he realizes his father was one of the best chess players in the world. The plot of this novel reveals why Daniel’s father swore off chess forever, and explores Daniel’s journey to discover chess for himself.
Though I appreciated the unusual subject matter of “Grandmaster,” the game of chess may not appeal to all readers. Readers unfamiliar with the rules and strategies of chess could be left a little confused or alienated. However, the author does explain most of the chess references and provides insight to a world I previously knew little about. “Grandmaster” was heavily influenced by the pasts of the characters, and these memories were slowly revealed throughout the novel. I did appreciate the mystery, though it took a little long to have these secrets revealed. The characters were strong and described thoroughly.
Adult Reader Average: A-
Keely graded the book an A
He joins the chess team thinking that it will be safer than sports and not take up too much of his time. He is caught off guard when he and his father – Morris – are invited to an elite chess tournament in New York for a long weekend.
Daniel is confused until he learns about his father’s past. And then, over the course of the weekend he and father come to learn a lot about themselves and each other.
What I really enjoyed about this novel – aside from its quick pace – was the fact that unlike so many YA novels this one explores a male coming of age story. It is a point of view we don’t often get to explore.
As a parent it is easy to identify with wantin to keep any “dark” sides of ourselves hidden less our children think less of us or take after us, but I think Daniel’s father by the end of the book realizes that he’s not only been holding his family at arm’s length, but that he’s also been cheating himself of the pleasure of sharing his love of chess with his children.
And Daniel discovers that he isn’t invisible he just needed to start putting himself out there and looking beyond himself to find a place where he belongs and people he belongs with – in true coming of age fashion – he finds himself and in the process things in his life fall into place.
It is an easy enjoyable read even for those who aren’t chess aficionados. I really enjoyed watching Daniel and Morris’ relationship go from tenuous to a deeper level of understanding.
Diana graded the book an A
Despite the fact that Daniel Pratzer attends a posh private school, he’s not exactly a stand-out student. Since he is neither an athlete, nor a top student , he decides to join the chess team in the hopes of making friends. Despite his efforts, he is an amateur at best. So he is genuinely surprised to discover that the two most popular guys at his school want him to join them at the father/son chess tournament. He is even more shocked when he finds out that the reason they want him is that his father Morris was once ranked a “grandmaster” at chess.
Daniel becomes angry at his father for hiding such an incredible part of his life from his family. So in order to assuage him, Morris agrees to go.While at the tournament, Morris and Daniel’s relationship also grows in ways they never imagined. As Daniel learns more about his father’s past, there is a new-found respect for him. This is the part of the story that I found captivating, a father and son discovering each other.
Klass also includes the technical aspect of chess throughout the novel. He introduces readers to some of the jargon and strategy behind chess and the tournaments. While all I know about chess is the bare minimum, I found all of the strategy and jargon interesting. It made me wish I could learn how to play chess. According to Klass’ interview (that we posted yesterday), I still might have hope to learn. Overall, I found this book to be a captivating and informative book certainly worth reading.
Amanda graded the book an A
Ok. A book about chess. Really? I thought this until I read the summary of the book, and then I was intrigued. And then I read the book, and I was entertained.
The author, David Klass, did a remarkable job bringing the characters and situation to life for me. One doesn’t need to know about chess in order to read and love this book. Mr. Klass’ character development of Daniel Prazter, a freshman boy at a private school, along with the intricacies of his relationship with his father and peers, kept me thoroughly engaged, and reading till the last page.
Daniel joins a chess club, and goes through the challenges of learning the game and losing as a beginner player. He is approached by a few of the elite and popular players, and asked to join them in a parent-child tournament. He learns through these boys that while he sat around, struggling to teach himself the basics of chess, his father never spoke up about the fact that he was a grandmaster and could have helped him.
The author takes us through Daniel’s sense of betrayal by his father due to his “secret” identity, while showing us other father/son relationships and highlighting for us, the reader, what should truly be valued and important in life.
Cassie graded the book an B+
So, I am not a chess player. At all. I know the rules of the game, I understand how the pieces move, but I do not have the mind for the strategy of it, and I don’t entirely understand the level of competition built up around the game. That being said, I am interested in the history and the culture, and so, from that perspective, this novel was fascinating to read, though it did, at times, go over my head and lose me. I also had a little trouble suspending my disbelief at times, regarding the severity of Morris to returning to the game of chess, but I am also willing to concede that this may just be my ignorance of the chess world. I have no doubt that there are people who take it that seriously.
But to me, what I appreciated most about this novel was not its glimpse into the chess world, but how it stands as a father/son novel. There is a strange sort of surreality that comes with learning or realizing that a family member is famous in some way, and having lived it, Dan and Morris’s story rings true. I loved how these two informed each other; I love how they grew closer over their shared experience; and I love how they struck a new balance and became a stronger family in the end.
Cara graded the book a B
Other than a passing knowledge of Bobby Fischer, I confess I know very little of the world of competitive chess. My high school did not have a chess team, or if they did, it was relegated to such a tertiary status that the student populace wasn’t aware of its existence. But I have played chess with my dad since I was a kid and while our games didn’t even begin to rise to the level of heated competition of the players in this story, they were spirited and enjoyable. Because of this, I was curious when I read the premise for this book. While this story didn’t contain much in the way of unexpected twists, it was a fast, surprisingly entertaining read about a high school father-son chess tournament. Some of the characters were a little flat, but the story moved along mostly unharmed by their one-dimensionality and I came to genuinely care about the outcome of the big chess tournament. This book won’t make it onto my top ten of the year but it is a satisfying way to spend a few hours.
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