This cleverly constructed, beautifully written story is just the thing for an audience on the brink of maturity but still looking out for fiction where everything unerringly works out by the end. It is told as if by 14-year-old Finlay, already a Scrabble genius who is also afflicted by a severe stammer. Seemingly abandoned by his mother and living alone with his nice but uncommunicative father, Finlay is tormented at school and suffers from generally low self-esteem. But he is saved by a supportive teacher who introduces him to Maryam, another Scrabble champion who is also sometimes bullied for insisting on wearing her traditional head scarf.
The overall plot concerning Finlay’s disappearing mother is unconvincing and there are other moments when credibility is more than a little stretched. But this is story securely set in old-fashioned children’s literature land at its most seductive: a place where coincidences are as regular as ordinary events and bad characters are as sure to get their come-uppance as are nicer ones guaranteed to enjoy their final reward. There will be time enough for readers to progress to other books where things are not so simple and where persistent problems tend to defy instant solutions. Here meanwhile is an excellent story for younger readers, artfully told and constantly sensitive to some of the difficulties faced by those who stammer. There are also numbers of informative tips on how to win at Scrabble, worthy of close attention for anyone playing this game at any age.