Chess Rumble

by G. Neri

illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

*ALA Notable 

"In my 'hood, battles is fought every day,' quips Marcus, an angry middle schooler on the brink of big trouble. His words, rife with frustration, tumble across page after page in free-flowing verse as he paints a picture of his quickly fading innocence. In the short time since his sister's death, memories of eating ice cream and giggling have been replaced by the bleak reality of a persistent bully, fist fights, and an absent dad. After begrudgingly meeting CM, Chess Master, the school's 'bad dude' chess club adviser, an extended 'battle' metaphor unfolds, concluding as Marcus takes responsibility for his own actions and moves his fighting off the street and onto the chessboard. . . . Chess Rumble works, and works well. Neri expertly captures Marcus's voice and delicately teases out his alternating vulnerability and rage. The cadence and emotion of the verse are masterfully echoed through Watson's expressive acrylic illustrations. Blacks, whites, and grays echo the concrete world of Marcus's urban home and, even more so, his despairing mood. Scattered chess pieces evoke the crescendo of the boy's temper. The closing scene tenderly catches tough-guy Marcus in a smile as he pounds fists with CM before sitting down to do battle, a stark contrast to his opening image, one dominated entirely by his fist. This book will become a standby pick for reluctant readers, who will be pulled in before they know it by the story's quick pace and the authenticity of Marcus's voice and experience."




"'Lotsa things make me mad,' says young African American Marcus, who gets into fights at school and at home. Violence is all around: 'In my 'hood, / battles is fought every day.' And when he is hassled by bullies or by his little brothers, Marcus responds with his fists. Then his teacher sends him to the library, where he meets CM, a local chess master who teaches students to fight their battles on the board instead of the streets. In this strong debut, Marcus' authentic voice narrates in potent, free-verse poetry. With minimal, direct words, Neri makes clear, without overstating, how Marcus' sense of being misunderstood amplifies his frustrations and how, through chess, he learns to take responsibility for his feelings and actions. Watson effectively echoes each scene's mood in small gray-tone paintings that employ dramatic shading. A deeply shadowed portrait of Marcus' absent dad is particularly moving. Readers of all backgrounds will find themselves here, but this will have particular appeal among reluctant readers and young, inner-city teens."



"'Battles is fought every day' in 11-year-old Marcuss hood. Not only has his father abandoned the family, but his sister has recently died, leaving him frustrated, angry and ready to fight -even with his worried, red-eyed mother and his younger twin brothers. Just as his volatility starts to get him into real trouble, Marcus meets a Yoda-like chess master and ex-con in the school library who challenges him to a game of chess. At first, Marcus's 'opening move' is to hurl the chessboard groundward, but in time, he learns to master the game - and his temper. Marcus tells his story in street slang, in a conversational first-person voice. . . The acrylic black-and-white illustrations are particularly effective at capturing natural expressions and the concrete-gray inner-cityscape."



"Chess Rumble provides a gripping and moving account of an eleven-year old boy's struggles with living in poverty in a single-parent household after the death of his sister. Plagued by feelings of rage and provoked by his younger brothers' antics and the taunts of his classmate, Marcus uses his fists as a coping device. Of course fighting makes his problems worse to the point where he risks getting kicked out of school and having to leave home. His bleak situation changes for the better when the school principal introduces Marcus to a chess master who has a program at the school that encourages troubled youth to fight their battles on the chessboard. Marcus does not take to the chess master or the program right away, but a particularly nasty fight and a visit to his sister's gravesite convince him to give the chess master another chance. Based on real inner-city enrichment programs that teach kids how to play chess, this book shows how a unique social program can help children to develop new skills, meet new people, and begin to overcome disadvantaged economic circumstances. This fast-paced and intriguing book is bound to hold the attention of most young readers as they get a good dose of important lessons in economics, sociology, and social policy."

- Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children


"The best part of this short, illustrated, verse novel is the voice of the main character's first person narration. As I read, I could actually hear Marcus's voice saying the words in my head. . . . Chess Rumble is touching and real."

- Miss Erin

"Jesse Joshua Watson has created captivating and realistic images that propel Chess Rumble's pages to come alive."


"I wish there were books like this when I was a kid. And I gotta give G. Neri his props for so successfully capturing the voice of a troubled 11-year-old, African American male from the hood. Marcus' language is street, conversational and real. He talks just like I did at 11-years-old, and often still do. Watson's acrylic illustrations are strong and bold, full of emotion, and have a graphic art quality about them."

- The Brown Bookshelf