I enjoyed Gordon Korman’s Ungifted so much that I decided it was time to read some of his other books. I don’t know why I’ve never read his stuff before; he is great! Schooled (Hyperion, $6.99) is a quirky book about Capricorn (Cap) Anderson, who has spent his entire life living on the all but abandoned commune left over from the 1960s. His grandmother, Rain, is the sole remaining resident and has raised and educated Cap entirely on her own. When she falls out of the plum tree, Cap, 13, drives her to the hospital, ending in his arrest (driving without a license) and a brief stint in the home of a social worker, who happens to have spent part of her childhood in the commune. And so Cap starts junior high. Little does he know — because honestly there isn’t much Cap does know about the outside world — the class’s biggest loser is always voted in as President of the 8th grade. When Cap is elected, when he is pranked, and when he is teased by his classmates, he takes it all in stride. Anger, jealousy, and vindictiveness are all completely outside his frame of understanding. Instead, he strives to do his best in his new position, as he knows it’s what Rain would expect of him. The longer that Cap stays true to himself and the principles that he’s learned from Rain, the more the student body starts to recognize and, sometimes begrudgingly, accept his strength of character. His belief in the individual skills of his classmates ultimately yields its own brand of community.
Cap is adorable. The narrative alternates between a number of characters, which allows for a more comprehensive development of the school environment. Korman utilizes this rotating narrative strategy effectively in both Schooled and Ungifted and conveys equal parts disdain and sympathy for both the school bully, Zach, and Hugh, Zach’s biggest prey (besides Cap). He also paints a very realistic picture of the middle school experience. According to Hugh, “Adults are always trying to figure out what makes kids tick. . . . Know what? They don’t have a clue”. The adults in Korman’s books, at least the ones I’ve read so far, do try really hard but they often miss the point, demonstrating that Korman, himself, does have a pretty good clue. I’m going to start recommending his books to kids who have read and enjoyed Andrew Clements’s school stories. I’m also really excited to eventually read more of Korman’s books and will let you know if they measure up to these two.