The Queen of Katwe

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2017

By Tim Crothers, Reviewed by Meg Isohata

The Queen of Katwe book cover

The Queen of Katwe, by Tim Crothers;
Simon & Schuster: New York, 2016; $16.00

The Queen of Katwe is a true story about an amazing Ugandan girl named Phiona Mutesi. Phiona grew up in the slums of Katwe. Life in Katwe is tough—little or no education, poor sanitation, crimes, violence, and extreme poverty. People search for food on the dangerous streets and often struggle to stay in one place for a long time because they can’t afford rent. This was the life of Phiona.

One day in 2005, while Phiona was searching for food on the streets of Katwe, she spotted her brother and decided to follow him. He led her to a dusty veranda where she met Robert for the first time. Robert was a Christian missionary who had a dream of empowering the kids of Katwe through the game of chess.

Phiona didn’t know anything about chess. The boys who had already been playing chess for a while made fun of her. Robert didn’t expect Phiona to come back because of all the teasing she suffered, but she came back the next day. So, Robert had Gloria, a girl younger than Phiona, teach her the fundamentals of chess. Phiona didn’t like the fact that she was being taught by someone who was younger than her, so she worked hard every single day to be the best she could. Soon, she started to beat everyone, including her mentor, Robert.

Obviously, she had a natural affinity for chess, but it was her hard work and dedication that helped her become the national junior champion at the age of eleven, only two years after she first learned to play chess. By the time she was fifteen, she had become the Uganda national champion. Phiona is now a Woman Candidate Master, the first in her country’s history. Her ultimate goal is to become a Grand Master, the highest title in chess.

I consider myself a serious chess player. Although I am not as good as Phiona, I practice the game of chess daily and often go to tournaments on the weekends. I feel like Phiona saw her life reflected in the game of chess. In chess, players have to persevere against many obstacles put in their path. In Phiona’s real-life situation, the obstacles were poverty, starvation, violence, and an unstable family situation in the slums of Katwe. This book definitely has some parts that are sad, upsetting, and even scary. Some people may find it disturbing to read about the horrible conditions in which the children of Katwe live. In that sense, I feel that readers must have a certain level of maturity to read this book. However, the book also tells us a remarkable story of how one girl from one of the worst slums in the world found hope for her future through the game of chess.

Like chess, life is all about struggles, frustrations, and triumphs. This book teaches you anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I want to recommend this book to anyone who needs a little inspiration in life. Whether you want to become a chess champion, write a book, get good grades, make it on a soccer team, or run your first 5K, this book will inspire you to achieve your goal. You just have to remember that, just as chess requires a lot of perseverance to win, you will need a lot of perseverance and patience to achieve your goal. This book has motivated me to strive for my best every day.

The Queen of Katwe Meg Isohata

Meg Isohata, 12
Mountlake Terrace,
Washington

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