“The Queen’s Gambit” Review

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis is actually a novel from 1983, rekindled in popularity by the same-named Netflix series in 2020. It is a book about orphans, addictions, relationships, feminism and chess . . . and it was a terrific read!

In the 1950’s, Beth Harmon, age 8, loses her parents and ends up in an orphanage in Kentucky. The other kids can be crude and she is often lonely. The staff routinely give the children tranquilizers to keep them calm, which begins Beth’s struggle with addiction – a problem which she recognizes, but she can’t completely escape. She has one friend, Jolene, at the orphanage and one adult mentor, a janitor, who sees Beth’s gift for chess and teaches her what he can. One day, Beth is adopted and eventually her new mother sees that she is a chess prodigy. The two of them begin traveling to tournaments in order to win prize money to pay their bills; but Beth’s skills take her far beyond little tournaments. She has a goal of being the U.S. champion and eventually beating the Russian champion. . .

I don’t know much about chess – other than the basic moves, but I loved this book. (If you ARE a chess player, the book will be even more enjoyable.) The character of Beth was very realistic and likeable, despite her flaws. And I loved seeing her change from being a loner – to being a person who needed her friends. (And I think I will be watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, now that I have read the book!)

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