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  • Written by Rich Wallace
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  • Perpetual Check
  • Written by Rich Wallace
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Written by Rich WallaceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rich Wallace


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: February 10, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-89163-2
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Randy is a chubby ninth grader with a Cub Scout hair cut who guesses M&M colors with his eyes closed and makes up words. He’s also a chess whiz who has defeated his older brother Zeke in nine of their last ten matches. Zeke is a high school senior, a soccer champ, and a chess natural who can beat just about anyone if he decides to really concentrate. So why is his loser little brother the better athlete, the better chess player, and the first to have a girlfriend?

The competition heightens when both Randy and Zeke qualify for the Northeast Regional of the Pennsylvania High School Chess Championships (Randy is seeded, Zeke is not)—and play their way right into a brother-tobrother final round. Told in alternating points of view between brothers, Rich Wallace’s new novel brings to life one of America’s favorite pastimes in a suspenseful story about competition and family loyalty.

Rich Wallace is the author of several books for young adults, including One Good Punch, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Wrestling Sturbridge, an ALA Quick Pick. He lives in Pennsylvania.

From the Hardcover edition.


*  ONE  *

Several Moves Ahead

They're barefoot, moving silently along the carpeted hallway, searching for some clue to which hotel room might be Jenna McNulty's.

217? 219? All of the doors look the same. What were they expecting to tip them off? Some definitive prep-school snore?

Pramod puts a finger to his lips--Like I don't know enough to be quiet, Zeke thinks--and kneels by a room-service tray someone had shoved into the hall. He lifts a silver-colored cover to reveal a sprig of parsley swimming in a congealed smear of steak grease and blood at the edge of the plate. He sticks his tongue from his open mouth and grimaces.

There's a half-full bottle of Heineken on the tray, recapped and upright. Pramod carefully puts two long, nimble fingers on the neck and raises it from the tray.

Zeke gives him a look that says, No way you're drinking that.

Pramod walks--with the beer--a few feet away, so he's equidistant between the doors of rooms 219 and 221. He leans against the pale striped wallpaper and motions Zeke over.

"He didn't drink from the bottle," he whispers.

"Who didn't?"

"Whoever's in that room." He points to the tray. "He used a glass, see?"

There's a clear drinking glass on the tray with an obvious trace of dried beer foam. In other words, the bottle holds untouched Heineken. Warm, certainly, and probably flat.

Pramod checks to make sure the cap is on tight, then puts the bottle in the pocket of his loose green gym shorts and starts walking toward the elevators. His T-shirt says JESUIT LACROSSE, and his straight black hair is badly mussed.

Zeke checks his watch. It's 1:09 a.m. The Round of 16 starts in less than eight hours.

The elevator floor is cool on their bare feet, and it takes a long time for the numbers to change from 2 to 3 to 4. They stop and the door opens and they walk along the hallway. Pramod takes his room key (actually, it's more like a credit card), opens the door, and they go in. Zeke reaches into his own pocket quickly and fishes around, then pulls out his empty hand.

Pramod unwraps two plastic hotel cups by the sink and pours about three ounces of beer into each.

He drinks his in one swig and stands there waiting for Zeke to empty his.

"Tastes like crap when it's warm," Pramod says.

"It's better cold?" Zeke immediately realizes that he's tipped his hand.
Pramod smirks. "Much better."

"I mean, I never had Heineken before. I usually drink other brands."
Pramod rolls his eyes. "Like apple juice?"

"Sometimes. Or vodka." Zeke's never even tasted vodka.

"You bring any with you?"

"No. I forgot."

"Sure you did."

When Zeke was six, his father decided that he was smart enough to learn to play chess. He didn't go easy on him. After about two weeks of getting his butt kicked, Zeke asked, "Dad, when do you think I'll be able to beat you?"

Mr. Mansfield smiled and rubbed the whiskers on his chin. "Well, Ace," he said, "if you keep learning and working at it, I think you'll probably be giving me a good game by the time you're fourteen or fifteen."

Three days later, Zeke got lucky and beat him. Soon after that, it wasn't luck at all. He was simply better than his dad. He had the ability to plan several moves ahead. His father didn't.

Zeke always found it amusing that he could regularly beat someone so much older than he was. Until the same thing started happening to him.

Last year, Zeke was the top-ranked player on his high school chess team. You won't hear him bragging to his friends about it. He doesn't use it to try to pick up girls. He doesn't have a letterman's jacket with an embroidered rook or a bishop sewn onto the sleeve.

But he likes the game and he's good at it, and the competitive chess season is basically all winter, fitting between his other sports of soccer and tennis.

The problem for Zeke is "my fat-ass little brother, Randy."

Randy is a freshman, so he's on the team this year. And he beats Zeke nine times out of ten. So that was the end of Zeke's top ranking.

The poker game had lasted about two hours, then a bunch of them roamed the halls for the rest of
the evening. Just Zeke and Pramod were left by midnight.

Zeke's not surprised to see a chessboard on the table near the window in Pramod's room, set up as if in midgame. Most of these chess guys are constantly reviewing moves and tactics, reading about
it, playing it online, practicing their openings and attacks over and over.

Zeke boned up a little this past week, but he usually doesn't even think about chess except when he's got a match. There's a lot on the line this weekend, though.

They're at the Lackawanna Station Hotel in Scranton for the Northeast Regional of the Pennsylvania High School Chess Championships. Sixty-four players got invited here, and they played two rounds earlier tonight, leaving sixteen to decide the regional title tomorrow. They gave the sixteen who advanced free dinner and rooms.

The regional winner gets a thousand-dollar scholarship. The overall state champion--to be decided next weekend in Philly among the eight regional champions and runners-up--gets five thousand.

"We never did figure out which room was hers," Pramod says, taking a seat on the edge of his bed.

"Who?" Zeke asks, though he knows Pramod is referring to Jenna McNulty. She's the top seed in the tournament and also the best-looking player, by far. And she knows it. About both things.

"Right. Like you don't know who I'm talking about," Pramod says. "You stared at her between every move tonight."

"And you didn't?"

"We all did. That's why she's so hard to beat. Instead of concentrating on our chess moves, we're dreaming about what other moves we could be putting on her."

Zeke's face gets a little flushed, and he nods. If he wins his first match in the morning, he'll be playing against Jenna in the quarterfinals.

Earlier that night, Zeke forced a stalemate in his first game against a guy from Carbondale but beat him quickly in the rematch. And his second-round game was over in about five minutes.

His little brother, Randy, won both of his matches easily. Randy's ranked fifth overall. The tournament officials seeded the top eight based on their computer ratings, and the rest of the players were plugged into the brackets at random.

It's set up like a basketball tournament. If there were no upsets in the early rounds, then the quarterfinals would have the first seed against the eighth, second versus seventh, third against sixth, and fourth versus fifth. But a couple of ranked players have already been knocked out.

From the Hardcover edition.
Rich Wallace

About Rich Wallace

Rich Wallace - Perpetual Check
“When you’ve faced that moment and given everything you have, you let yourself realize that . . . your success or failure is not ultimately based on whether you triumphed, but in how you faced up to the challenge.”—Rich Wallace

Rich Wallace is the author of several books set in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania, including Wrestling Sturbridge, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults; Shots on Goal; Losing Is Not an Option; and Playing Without the Ball.


I’ve heard it said that most people who write for kids have a fixed point in their childhood where their most significant memories lie. A piece of them has remained that age, has continued to see the world through the eyes of that child. It’s where their emotions run hottest, where their impressions are most vivid.

For me that place is the high school years, the years of Ben in Wrestling Sturbridge and Bones in Shots on Goal. It’s the moments of absolute torture waiting for the girl to answer the telephone, or of gut-twisting anticipation just before a race. It’s the white-hot fury in the rush toward the finish line, the rare but deserved feeling of confidence when you step to the line for a game-winning free throw, and the satisfying range of emotions after a loss or a draw or a triumph.

I was successful as an athlete in high school and college and beyond, but what I feed off now are the alone times: the training, the psyching up, the self-definition. The way Ben prepares himself in the locker room before going to the mat with Al, coming to the realization that “I’ve been waiting a long time to walk out there in a match that means everything—my whole career. Al’s, too. I earned it and I want it.”

Or Bones, before the championship soccer game: “My eyes are wide; I can feel my heart pumping. Coach calls us over and I walk toward the sideline. I am confident and ready and scared.”

These guys have reached pivotal moments in their lives, not just as athletes, but as people. They’ve reached places where they’ve wanted to be, but it’s terrifying just the same to be there. Because you can’t duck out; you can’t say it doesn’t really matter what happens. Because it does.

And afterward, when you’ve faced that moment and given everything you have, you let yourself realize that it wasn’t the winning that mattered, or the losing. That your success or failure is not ultimately based on whether you triumphed, but in how you faced up to the challenge.

I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever move away from my teenage years, in either direction, and write about little kids or adults. There’s this fiery orb of matter centered on the years from fifteen to eighteen, and I don’t think it will expire in my lifetime. So the likelihood is that any future novel I write will draw most of its heat from that period.

I kept intense diaries during my teenage years, packing them with the ups and downs of my daily existence. I captured the boredom and frustrations of life in a small town, the angst and embarrassments of my first dealings with girls, the desire and growing confidence that came with gradual success as an athlete, and the enormous fun of hanging with a group of funny, frustrated, kinesthetic guys. I turn to those diaries sometimes when I need to relive an emotion for a scene in a novel. And I find the same guy I am now—a lot more naive, a lot more ego-driven, but essentially the same individual.

I hope I never lose him. One way I keep him alive is by letting him write these novels of mine. I hope he finds like-minded readers, and that he can help them face their own moments of definition.

Rich Wallace has worked as a sportswriter and news editor, and as the coordinating editor of Highlights for Children magazine. He’s coached his sons’ youth sports teams year-round, including soccer, basketball, and track and field.


“It’s a riveting story . . . Wallace weighs his words carefully, making every one count in this excellent, understated first novel.”—Starred, Booklist

“There are only a few contemporary writers who can hit the mark with teenage boys, and Rich Wallace, with his first novel, seems likely to join that group. . . . You don’t need to know or like wrestling to become quickly engaged with this story.”—Chicago Tribune

“The sports angle makes this a great ‘guy’s’ book, while the gripping narrative and feisty heroine will appeal to young women, too. A real winner.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

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