Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Review: "Ungifted" by Gordon Korman

Title: Ungifted
Author: Gordon Korman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray, 2012

Donovan Curtis has always been one to act before thinking. He'll just get this urge and act on it, and then he'll have to deal with the consequences afterward. But when his impulses lead to the accidental destruction of the middle school gym, he knows he's made a huge mistake this time. Luckily for him, an error works out in his favor and sends him to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction and away from the wrath of Superintendent Schultz, who has conveniently forgotten the name of the student he caught red-handed. Unfortunately Donovan is decidedly not gifted in the same ways his new classmates, all with extremely high IQs, are. Yet despite how clear it is he doesn't belong, he manages to figure out just what the self-described nerds need. He just needs to be able to fake his way through the Academy in order to stay there and out from under the watchful eye of the man looking for him.

This was a really fun look at what might happen if an average kid was thrown in a group of supersmart ones, though it was not without its flaws. Donovan really throws a wrench into the relatively normal proceedings of the Academy, which is admittedly far beyond what you would see in a regular middle school. I really liked how Donovan highlights this; the smart kids get all sorts of advantages and a very nurturing environment in which to work and learn, as opposed to the dismal surroundings and equipment found at his old school, Hardcastle Middle, where each grade has about 300 students. Korman shows how the way students are treated and the tools they have can really make a huge difference.

This story was told with lots of humor, too. This is my first book I've read by Korman, but I hear this is pretty typical of his work. The situations that Donovan gets himself into, and that the Academy students end up in, are pretty funny to read about. Plus the characters themselves are funny, both in manner and in the things they say.

One of the things I most appreciated about this book was how Korman wrote about a realistically pregnant woman in Katie, Donovan's very pregnant sister who ends up being a huge part of the plot. He does not shy away from the physical discomforts about being pregnant, such as the constant need to go to the bathroom, swollen ankles, the difficulty of moving around, etc. She is grumpy about her situation, and the fact that she misses her husband who is serving in Afghanistan only adds to her character and fueled my sympathy. It's rare that I read about a pregnant character who is engaging in the way Katie is, and who kids might be able to relate to. No, they might not be able to relate to the baby stuff, but her relationship with her brother is something any kid with a sibling can get. Plus, now readers will know a bit more about Human Growth and Development.

Yet this novel had its flaws too. I had trouble with the incredible stereotypical image given to the kids at the Academy. All are smaller and shrimpy, physically weak, and pasty from lack of sunlight. I understand that Donovan and his "normalcy" are at the heart of the book, but it kind of gives the message that supersmart people are all supposed to look and act a certain way. I'm also unsure as to the amount of diversity in the book, though there was little to no physical description of the characters so that could be left up to the reader to decide the ethnicities of the students—mostly all I had to go on was "pasty," which doesn't really lend me to think there are many (if any) students of color. I wish there had been more description, and character development actually. Only a handful of people had more to their character than how smart they were and their special talents. We occasionally got a first-person perspective from secondary characters, but many are left completely undeveloped.

Despite the issues I had with the characters, Korman manages to tell a fresh, fun story about how a person's ungiftedness might actually be his gift. It's a story of teamwork, friendship, and robots, which are always fun to have around.

Disclosure: I got this book from my local library.

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