The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer

duncandorfmanDo you play Scrabble? My grandma taught me to play when I was about seven years old as a way to practice spelling and vocabulary.  (My dad taught me to play blackjack to help get my math facts faster, too.  If you can make learning into a game, go for it!) I have several Scrabble sets in my classroom and I always teach my students how to play each year.  It’s a great (and quiet) activity for free time or rainy days.  I still play all the time; I think I have about 12 Words With Friends games going on right now, and I learn new words every day as a result!

My book for today just so happens to be about Scrabble, and the cover of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman was what first caught my eye, for the letter tiles as well as the guy in the alligator costume.  Duncan Dorfman is the new kid at school after he and his mother move back to her hometown to live with his great-aunt.  The night before school starts, his mom gives him a warning:

“Whatever you do, Duncan, keep it to yourself,” she said. “If you don’t, I’m afraid something bad will happen.”

What is Duncan’s power?  He has a remarkable talent in his left hand.  If he closes his eyes and runs his fingers over words, any kind of words, he can read them.  He can feel them with his fingers and know what they say.  Naturally his secret doesn’t stay secret for very long, and as soon as the Scrabble team hears about it, Duncan has suddenly been recruited to play in a high-stakes tournament with a cash prize of $10,000. Duncan’s mother could sure use that money, so he agrees to learn about the game and play in the tournament.  His new partner thinks they will be able to crush their opponents since Duncan will be able to pick out exactly the right letters at the right time.  Duncan can do it, but will he?

We also get to follow two other Scrabble teams as they prepare for the tournament, and ultimately their paths cross once they arrive there.  Everyone has his or her own particular motivation, or reason, for wanting to win, but they also band together to solve some problems that arise along the way.

Duncan has a moral dilemma over the issue of cheating, and yet he makes some interesting decisions as he goes through the story.  Some of the secondary storylines feel like they are just too much extra stuff and so some of the events seem pretty crazy and unbelievable.  That can be distracting when the rest of the story is written to BE believable, but that’s just my opinion.

The thing I like best about this book was that it gives tons of Scrabble tips, hints, and word lists! My favorite team was a pair of kids who, although the tournament was for 5th-8th graders, looked “as if they were only in second grade.”  I wish there had been more about their story, too, because I felt very protective of them!  My least favorite character was Carl, Duncan’s partner, but you get to enjoy not liking him as you read the story, if that makes sense.  If you like word games, feel like you don’t fit in at school OR at home, wish you had a secret power, or you can imagine yourself winning $10,000, give this book a shot.

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman has an AR level of 5.2 and is worth 9 points.

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