Stewart Foster has done it again! First the exceptional The Bubble Boy, then the timely All the Things That Could Go Wrong and now the utterly unforgettable Check Mates; Foster is firmly making his mark amongst the likes of Ross Welford, Jenny Pearson and Lara Williamson.
Check Mates tells the heartwarming tale of Felix, a charming 11 year-old protagonist with ADHD, his grandfather and a relationship that blossoms in amongst the black and white chequers of a chess board. But when Felix’s grandfather first suggests learning chess to help with Felix’s attention span, Felix couldn’t think of anything worse. Yet sometimes the best lessons come in the most unexpected of places, and Felix soon learns that there’s always something to play for.
Full of humour, compassion and encouragement, whilst skilfully weaved together with an exceptionally underrated historical twist, Check Mates is a book that will no doubt resonate with a lot of middle grade readers out there, particularly with Felix and his approach to life.
Felix is written with such authenticity and warmth that he radiates a sense of familiarity in us all. I’m sure we’ve all at times been lost to our daydreams or lacked the concentration to focus yet Felix’s ADHD finds himself struggling at school and constantly in trouble. Felix’s ADHD is a massive part of his identity, (similar to Alex’s OCD in All the Things That Could Go Wrong), and Foster boldly approaches this representation with a strong sense of honesty and vulnerability. Through these stirring insights, I found myself rooting for Felix in his difficult moments and moved by his growing confidence.
But personally for me, it was Felix’s grandfather that was the star of the book - an utterly fantastic character, full of depth, patience and understanding. His story moved me to tears, yet its backdrop to the Cold War and the division of East and West Germany with the Berlin Wall is one that will stir a sense of curiosity and importance in children.
There is so much to love about this story, with running themes of perseverance, self-belief, and the importance of family. And you don’t have to know about chess to enjoy this book, but who knows, you too might find yourself wanting to learn!