Author: Kim Slater
First Published by Macmillan Children’s Books in 2016
Review by Miriam Atkinson
A Seven Letter Word is one of the most astounding books I have read for a long time. Author Kim Slater uses a seeming simply story about teenager Finlay playing scrabble and trying to find out why his mum left her family, to weave together many complex and challenging subjects found in society in this book for teens and young readers. A Seven Letter Word highlights the issues of: bullying, racism, hints of domestic abuse and intimidation, corruption, and the risks of befriending a stranger on the internet, all of which are dealt with carefully and maturely.
In the future I can see A Seven Letter Word being used in schools to help raise awareness of these issues. It is certainly an enlightening tale. It is also worth mentioning that Slater never intends to frighten her younger readers (nor does she) but rather the novel helps younger readers to be aware these issues are out there in a society they may not yet have experienced.
The primary subject the book examines is the stigma surrounding stammering, which protagonist Finlay suffers from. This is something I have not come across represented in a children’s novel before and I applaud Slater for doing so. Finlay is isolated at school due to his inability to form the words necessary to make a complete sentence. Finlay comments that although the words are created easily enough in his head, he has no idea what will come out when he tries to speak. As I was reading I realised that Slater had chosen to heavily feature the game of scrabble as clever metaphor for stammering and Finlay’s struggle because in the game players must choose the tiles blindly and so do not know what letters they will receive. Therefore players cannot know which words they will able to use before they begin, they have to wait and see – just like Finlay when he speaks.
The novel is told entirely from Finlay’s perspective and Slater never slips in her writing style and technique, causing the reader to be placed absolutely in Finlay’s head with full access to his thoughts and feelings. As a result the reader experiences some wonderfully visceral descriptions, particularly when Finlay feels threatened or scared.
Although A Seven Letter Word is advertised as being for readers 10+, I can see no reason why people of all ages would not find this story interesting and compelling.
*This review was originally published in the online magazine ‘Cuckoo Review’ in April 2016*