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A Star from Kirkus

"Snap to attention, Moses—you won the damn thing."



I feel a little like our hero, Moses Middleton, after he scores an unexpected victory in the all-City tournament.


"One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit." So Kirkus says, and they do not speak falsely.


So I executed a mental fist-pump when Pushing Pawns was awarded the Kirkus Star in an insightful review that I reproduce below:


"This debut YA novel sees a Black chess enthusiast commit more fully to his high school teammates and—through their camaraderie—tackle problems away from the board.

Fourteen-year-old Moses “Mose” Middleton attends Q722, a public school in Jackson Heights, Queens. Mose is a keen amateur chess player and has organized a team to compete in tournaments run by the NYC Chess in the Schools program. Though united by a desire to prove themselves, Mose and his friends have difficulties that prevent them from giving their best. Mose is prone to concentration lapses, often the result of focusing too much on his opponent. P.D. “Personality Disorder” Morales is a genius underachiever with truancy issues that frequently extend to chess. (He will wander off midcompetition and forfeit games.) Maggie Wang has problems with a creepy uncle at home. Esther Toussaint is a self-driven overachiever with little time for the game. And Zamir Hoxha is a recently arrived Albanian immigrant who is being bullied at school. If the team is to survive, Mose knows he’ll need to bring the members closer together. His first step? To seek out the mentorship of Viktor Fleischmann, a Russian player. Viktor “was rumored to be an international grandmaster who’d lost his marbles and run out of luck.” Under his guidance, will the five young players become greater than the sum of their troubled parts? In this series opener, Novak writes in the first person, past tense from Mose’s perspective. The dialogue is convincingly Generation Z, and Mose is an able representative of a non-White, unprivileged upbringing—someone forced by life to be acutely aware of racial and social dynamics yet determined to rise above injustice and always behave appropriately (he is mindful of toxic masculinity). Mose is not without flaws, but he remains a thoughtful, self-aware protagonist who is easy to cheer for. The other characters are well drawn, and the author is both measured and respectful in presenting different ideologies. The chess content is accurate throughout yet not so detailed as to put off nonplayers. The story moves quickly but naturally, weaving with assurance between the chess plot and Mose’s and his friends’ various issues. Young readers should very much approve and enjoy.

Eye-opening and engaging; a triumphant mashup of underdog sporting contest and teen drama." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)



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