228 Pages–Ages 8-12 (and up)
Published by: Balzer + Bray on February 18, 2014 (reprint edition)
Summary (from gordonkorman.com):
The word “gifted” has never been applied to Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like “don’t try this at home.” So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy for Scholastic Distinction, a special program for gifted and talented students.
It isn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout. That is, if he can fool his family, the teachers, the superintendent, and a school full of fellow students with IQs well above genius level.
I had originally picked up this book because I had read another one of Gordon Korman’s books and I loved it (see my review on Masterminds). The premise sounded promising and I was excited to see where the story would go. The plot seems pretty predictable: an “ungifted” kid mistakenly get’s moved into a “gifted” school and he initially doesn’t fit in at all. However, as the story progresses he probably shows talents that the other “gifted” kids don’t seem to have and they end up liking him for it. Then the story ends with some revelation by some party that there are all different types of “gifted” people. Well see if I’m right, but in the meantime I hope that this book is comparable to Masterminds in terms of enjoyment levels.
As a first thought I think I should warn you that reading this book requires the reader to suspend their disbelief. The way Korman portrays almost all of the characters are stereotypical and mostly unrealistic. But honestly, I didn’t read this book for a hard hitting expose on gifted children and their struggles in society. I figured that the characters would be very stereotypical because, after all, inserting a “normal” students with “gifted” students is a somewhat popular subject in middle-grade and young adult novels so it was pretty easy to guess which stereotype the characters would fall under.
Even though the characters were textbook stereotypical, somehow they seemed to each have their own personalities. Each chapter of the novel focuses on a characters point of view (most of them are Donovan’s though). Often times when a book is written in alternating perspectives, it can become hard for the reader to transition between the chapters because the characters don’t have distinctive personalities. Fortunately, this book does not have that problem; when reading the book I had no trouble keeping up with the changing perspectives because each character was easy to keep apart. I think one of the reasons why the characters are so easy to keep track of is because they are all stereotyped so it feels like we’ve seen them before (which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I think it works in this case). However, for many kids who are “gifted” (the word is so objective) or in their gifted and talented organizations at school, they may be offended by the way the author portrays those types of children. The characters, for the most part, lack basic social skills, are unfashionable, and are general nerds (or maybe they are called geeks? I never really understood the difference between nerds and geeks…maybe they’re both). To be fair though, the so called “normal” students are also stereotyped: they treat the gifted students poorly, participate in odd shenanigans, and don’t seem to give much of a care in the world. Academics seems to take a backseat to mischief for the regular kids whereas for the gifted kids there is nothing but academics involved. All students represented in the book falls under this dichotomy: they are either gifted and go to the Academy or they are not gifted and go to the regular middle school. The entire story is then based on one character, Donovan, crossing the threshold between this dichotomy and seeing how “the other half lives.”
I understand that the way the gifted children were portrayed in this novel probably wasn’t that accurate. I’ve never personally met a genius child or adults (at least not that I know of), but they probably are normal people like the rest of us. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the antics of the genius children. Noah had to be my favorite. That kid was a riot! I loved how he dressed up as a WWE wrestler for the dance and how he smashed the offending robot with a chair. It doesn’t get much better than that! I wish that when I competed in robotics competitions in my youth, a contestant smashed another teams robot because of a bad call (‘course that would be bad sportsmanship and frowned upon by the authoritative people, but the world’s not perfect, right?). The main focus of the story is Donovan bonding with the “gifted” students and the different ways that he earns their admiration and eventual respect. This books is definitely more character based than plot based, and I loved the different relationships that Donovan was eventually able to form with the other students.
As a last comment on the book, the author stereotypes all of the characters in the book whether normal or gifted so whether you fit into the gifted or normal category you are able to get offended. I am most definitely not an genius with a high IQ so I fall into the normal category yet I wasn’t offended in any way by the way that the normal kids were portrayed, so I think if I’m able to get over it then the gifted people can get over it too. We all just have to remember that this is fiction and we can’t go around assuming all gifted children don’t know how to interact with other people or that the normal kids are all morons that destroys everything that they touch.
In my pre-thoughts section I stated that I want this book to be as entertaining as Masterminds, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as Masterminds overall, this book was funny and had great characters. If you can get over the stereotypes in this book, I would highly recommend it.