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The Cruisers #2: Checkmate

Review

The Cruisers #2: Checkmate

Harlem's Da Vinci Academy for the Gifted and Talented is a school for exceptionally bright kids. English is Alexander "Zander" Scott's thing. The eighth-grade student has a way with words and hopes to be a writer some day. With his parents divorced, he lives in Harlem with his beautiful mom, who scrapes by making a living as a model.

Zander and his friends call themselves the Cruisers. His best friend, Kambui, has a laid-back approach to grades, just like Zander. Photography is Kambui's passion. One day he hopes to travel the world taking photographs that will change people's lives. Outspoken La Shonda is an amazing clothing designer who loves to sew. Barbara "Bobbi" is a whiz with numbers and statistics, which comes in handy for the Cruisers' Independent Study Project. Bobbi also plays second boards on the school's chess team.

While each of the Cruisers is extremely talented, their just-get-by attitude towards grades gives the impression that they are not living up to their potential. They are, however, bright and articulate, and skilled at influencing other students. At Da Vinci, students are encouraged to join groups and make a difference. Zander and his friends rise to the occasion by coming up with an alternative school newspaper, The Cruiser, where they express unconventional points of view to counterbalance the school's official newspaper.

Sidney Aronofksy isn't one of the Cruisers, but he and Zander have a history. In the past, he stood up for Zander against bullies. Since then, they've been friends and had each other's backs. Sidney is a top-rated chess player, the last person Zander thinks would be involved in drugs. After Sidney is arrested for trying to buy illegal drugs, the Da Vinci assistant principal asks the Cruisers to talk to him. Even after Zander's policeman uncle takes Sidney and the rest of the Cruisers on a ride they most likely will never forget, the pressure of being a master chess player takes its toll. The Cruisers must use their imagination, intelligence and collective resources to keep Sidney from spiraling out of control.

In CHECKMATE, the second book in the Cruisers series, Walter Dean Myers has created another thoughtful novel about the perils and pressures facing gifted middle-grade students. He uses a deft touch and a conversational tone to connect with his readers, but does not shy away from timely social issues, including drugs, media bias, subtle racism, child abuse and the pressure to excel.

Zander and the Cruisers show how important loyalty and friendship are when the pressure to excel becomes more than one can handle. The serious subject of drug use by middle-school students is center stage, but is lightened by the touches of humor about the budding romance between Zander and Caren --- a seventh-grade girl who likes to shade the truth.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on August 1, 2011

The Cruisers #2: Checkmate
by Walter Dean Myers

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0439916321
  • ISBN-13: 9780439916325