What the bestselling Word Freak did for Scrabble, this riveting narrative now does for the National Spelling Bee. Here is a captivating slice of Americana--part sporting event, part absorbing human drama, and part celebration of the magic of words.
Every spring in the nation's capital, after a starting pool of 10 million kids narrows to 250 finalists, America's top young spellers face off in a nail-biting contest. So electric is the drama that millions of viewers tune in to watch ESPN's live telecast
But this national obsession is much more than a sporting story--and this first-ever narrative nonfiction book about the National Spelling Bee immerses the reader in unique subculture, portraying the endearing fraternity of brilliant, eccentric young word nerds who vie for a gold trophy, a hefty check, and a glorious moment of national fame.
Author James Maguire, who like the contestants is an inveterate word nut, captures the agony and glory of this singularly American event. He profiles the top five spellers across the country, exploring their hopes and dreams-and strategies for winning--as they prepare for their moment in the spotlight. American Bee takes readers behind the scenes at the National Bee, providing a narrative thrill ride as the tension mounts round by round.
To the fans-those who've caught the ESPN broadcast of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee or the documentary Spellbound, among other outlets for the increasingly popular competition-Maguire's efforts to enliven his esoteric subject matter may prove superfluous, but his deft portrayal of the heart-stopping competition the Bee inspires will certainly catch the attention of the uninitiated. His profiles of the young spellers are amusing, occasionally touching and always impressive. The spellers' affinity for language leads to some great feats: David Tidmarsh, the 2004 champion, studied the entire Webster's Unabridged dictionary; Samir Patel, the 2005 runner-up, studied word lists all day, even while eating. Maguire's adulation for the spellers at times leads to excessive description, a problem complicated by the number of competitors, though his focus does eventually hone in on ten spellers competing in the 2005 Bee. His portraits of these spellers' preparations and personalities-Samir Patel's charming on-stage presence or Kerry Close's latent competitiveness-gives the reader ample reason to play favorites, giving the book a welcome touch of suspense. In addition, an impassioned description of the evolution of language in America sheds a new light on the Bee, and the worthiness of these competitive spellers' alacrity for the subject.