Kim Slater’s first novel, Smart, was nominated for a slew of regional and national awards when it was published in 2014. Her second novel is a worthy successor to this award-winning début. A Seven Letter Word is an attractive, chunky hardback with Scrabble-themed jacket and endpapers, and using Scrabble tiles and excerpts from the rules of the game as chapter headings. With Scrabble as a unifying device throughout, the novel tells the story of 14-year-old Finlay, who lives with his hamster, Neville, and his uncommunicative father. When Finlay’s mother left suddenly two years ago his stutter disimproved to the extent that he finds it hard to communicate at all, preferring solitary online Scrabble games with strangers.
This is a richly textured narrative, which interweaves stories of bullying, racial discrimination against immigrants in contemporary Britain, and the dangers of confiding in people you meet online. Above all, it examines the different ways in which people (and animals) communicate. ‘Why does everybody put such importance on talking out loud? The spoken word is definitely overrated,’ Finlay says, and this novel gives a rounded portrayal of other means of communication and how they all interact to form our experience of our relationships and of the world – in code, online, through signage, by speaking, and by writing things down. All of these combine to unravel the mystery of Finlay’s missing mother. A thoroughly satisfying novel.