Preteens Charlotte Lockard and Ben Boxer enjoy an ongoing online Scrabble feud, each vying for word-game domination, while they both silently struggle with middle school social catastrophes and crumbling family infrastructures.
Suddenly, their intermittent Scrabble banter becomes an unexpected lifeline. Pennsylvanian Charlotte’s rock collections, incessant anagramming, and deep-delving thought spirals charm readers instantly; Louisianan Ben’s sputtering, encyclopedic knowledge of presidential history, Ravenclaw blanket, relentless recycling statistics, and stick-to-it optimism couldn’t be sweeter. Guileless and earnest, these two kids seem poised for inevitable heartbreak. Charlotte can’t face her lifelong best friend, who suddenly thinks she’s a “parasite,” or her father, who’s recovering in the ICU after a heart attack. Ben can’t understand his parents’ marriage’s “devolution” into a divorce or the ridicule his student council campaign incites. Catastrophe looms and builds through the book, the reckoning of a single week that culminates with a crucial convergence of the Scrabble friends’ virtual world with their real one. Charlotte’s and Ben’s alternating first-person accounts of their humiliations and struggles induce a constricting tightness in readers’ chests. Their unspoken feelings and worries (which appear in quavering italics) weigh heavily. Readers will undoubtedly see themselves in these pages. Charlotte and Ben are both depicted with pale skin and dark hair on the cover; their respective ethnicities go unmentioned, and their supporting cast is a diverse one.
A well-crafted, entertaining call for middle schoolers to find their voices and remain accountable in shaping their own social spheres. (Fiction. 8-12)