★★★★☆ Brief review of Ungifted by Gordon Korman

I think Amazon had a review that said if you’re a fan of Louis Sachar, you’ll love this book by Gordon Korman. I think that Korman has been writing great stuff for so long that it’s really more appropriate to say that if you love Gordon Korman, you’ll probably like a lot of Louis Sachar.

Like all Korman’s books, this one has a lot of heart. It wasn’t quite as laugh out loud funny as some of his other efforts, but it’s definitely got some great humor.

Typically I don’t like narratives that are told from multiple viewpoints, but Korman manages to pull it off incredibly well by starting each chapter with a title that uses an “Un-word” followed by the narrator and their IQ score. As a result we also get a much more nuanced picture of all of the characters which are incredibly well done.

As one of the “smart” kids growing up, I wish this book had been around to have read then, but it’s still great now and everyone is sure to appreciate it. While the protagonist is a boy, I really appreciated that there was lots of great female representation here.

📖 Read pages 205-274 and finished Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

📖 Read pages 205-274 and finished Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

Pretty damn awesome! What a fun little read. Not as hilarious as No Coins, Please! but also some somewhat older and more sophisticated characters. There’s something that I love about not only just the “little guy” pulling one over on “the man” but it’s seemingly more fun when the “little guy” is a kid. These two books and the movie Kidco ( Twentieth Century Fox, 1984) create sort of a mini genre in which I wish there was more material.

Library copy of the cover of Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman

Juvenile fiction recommendations for Kim Hansen

Replied to a tweet by Kim HansenKim Hansen (Twitter)

Coincidentally I’ve lately been re-reading a lot of Gordon Korman (and reading books I missed in my youth). What is interesting is that in his 80’s opus a lot of more modern technology is just not there, which makes it much more subtle from a plot perspective. It’s not as if he’s got references to dead technology like fax machines that really takes you out of the flow of the story. Of course in a modern setting a lot of the kids in his books would probably be Pavlovianly-glued to screens, but I don’t think it’s a horrible thing to expose children to things they might otherwise be doing without a cell phone in hand.

There are only a few places where there are now seeming plot holes where a cell phone would have made all the difference (example: Artie Geller going missing in No Coins, Please!), but they’re generally so well told and so funny that I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief.

In A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag where energy technology figures relatively prominently, it still reads really well, particularly because we’ve still got those types of technology problems. Even the computer teacher quitting when the computers crash and don’t save work because of power issues at school reads well in a modern context. Of course, this book is set on Long Island, so it might not have the Canadian “representation” that you’re looking to recommend to them.

I’ve only made my way through a couple of the Macdonald Hall series, but those are just good clean prankster fun, so modern technology doesn’t seem to have factored in for me. While most of Korman’s work (at least that I’ve read thus far) is very male-centered, these particular books have some good female representation and depict the girls at the school across the street as very modern and on a generally equal footing with boys, particularly with the antiquated, dotty, old-school head mistress as a foil. On this front, I’d give Korman very high marks in comparison with other relatively recent juvenile literature classics like Beverly Cleary who even through the 70’s was having main characters like Henry regularly say overtly sexist things like “Beezus is pretty smart–for a girl.”

The tough part of more modern juvenile literature is that a lot of it has gone much further upstream and spread out considerably compared to what we had available in our youths. There’s a huge swath of YA work that has filled in but which borders more on soft-core Danielle Steele a la the Twilight Series. Almost all of these are also written as parts of longer series of 3, 4, 7, or more books too, which can be annoying because the plot is often strung out in choppy ways. If they’re a bit older and in high school, perhaps John Green’s work may be appropriate?

If they haven’t come across them, I always like to recommend Holes by Louis Sachar; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; Lois Lowry’s The Giver (et al.) which I’ve been re-reading lately too; and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. All of these are generally great timeless literature, and I often recommend them to adults who may have missed them.

I’m also a fan of the more recent Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart which has some of the rollicking fun of Korman with some interesting twists, plotting, and has some well-rounded representation of characters.

A while back I read the first in a series of steampunk/pirate books called A Riddle in Ruby by Kent Davis which had a lot of interesting science, alchemy, science fiction, and adventure. While it wasn’t quite my cup of tea, it was pretty well done, entertaining, and may appeal to them.

Also similar to Korman, but even older to the point that they read as period literature, they might find The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald or The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand R. Brinley highly engaging.  Sadly, while entertaining and with a lot of heart and cultural intelligence, they don’t have much, if any, female representation, primarily as a function of their authors and when they were written.

📖 49% done reading A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag by Gordon Korman

📖 49% done reading A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag by Gordon Korman

The age bracket of these sophomores/juniors in high school seems a bit older than some of Korman’s other books and characters, but is interestingly sophisticated. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it as much, but it’s starting to grow on me. Their fudging on the poetry assignment is becoming increasingly entertaining. I can feel the proverbial pot beginning to boil the frogs and can’t wait to see when they jump out of the soup.

📖 38% done reading A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag by Gordon Korman

📖 38% done reading A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag by Gordon Korman

Not quite as sharp as most of Korman’s other plots, but also in a slightly different area and still interesting.

Brief review of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman

Brief review of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman (Scholastic, November 25, 2014)

Rating:

** spoiler alert **

Knowing that this was his first book and written when he was still a very young teenager, I didn’t expect a whole lot from Korman. Given that I’ve enjoyed so many of his other books, I should have held him to much higher standards as he always seems to be able to deliver!

The balloon arriving at the school was a bit deus-ex-machina, but it played out so well both plot-wise and even comedic-ly–even tying in the flag incident at the start of the story–that who could fault him?

📖 Read pages 93-144 of 144 of This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman

📖 Read pages 93-144 and finished This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman (Scholastic, November 25, 2014)