Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Schooled by Gordon Korman (3 out of 4 stars)--
Prolific YA author Gordon Korman’s new novel, Schooled, is a very likable and fun morality fable that capitalizes on every middler’s nightmare: feeling out of place in a new environment, a new body, and a new way of thinking. Taking a page or three from Robert Heinlein’s modern classic Stranger in a Strange Land, Korman changes the protagonist’s home from Mars to a commune named Garland Farm, and the obligatory crusty-but-benign mentor is Rain, a hippie grandmother who thinks Earth Day was the last important American historical event. Although the story seems a bit improbable, the young people are very easily recognizable and appear at almost every middle school, or at least on the television shows about middle school. Alienation is an important theme in YA literature, and Korman handles it with humor and grace.
Capricorn Anderson (call him Cap) has just tumbled into a strange and wonderful world called the Present Day. For all of his life, Cap has lived on a commune, completely out of touch with the outside world. He has always been capably homeschooled by his hippie grandmother Rain (his parents died in the Peace Corps) , but when Rain is injured, Cap must attend Claverage (dubbed C Average by the students), the local middle school. Cap is not prepared for the pitfalls that await him: “‘I don’t like it out there . . . It’s too crowded. People dress funny; they talk too fast, and all they’re interested in is things! Cell phones and iPods and Game Boys and Starbucks. What’s a starbuck?’” (20). Cap is taken in by Mrs. Donnelly, a former member of the commune, and he is immediately struck by culture shock when he meets her sixteen-year-old daughter, Sophie, the first girl he has ever met up close: “I had seen beautiful girls on book jackets, and even noticed some from a distance when Rain and I had gone into town for supplies. But this was the first time I’d ever met one . . . It sure was a strange and complex world outside Garland” (25-26). As Cap interacts with his new fellow students, several people try to manipulate him (the cool kid, the nerd, the jock; all of the usual suspects). He is “elected” class president, a title usually reserved for losers who are mocked for the entire year, but Cap adds status to the position through endless patience and courtesy. He drives a bus to the hospital in an emergency and saves the driver, getting arrested and becoming an urban legend in one action: “They were treating him like a criminal–which I guess a school bus hijacker technically was . . . We watched in awe as they hauled him roughly to his feet” (76). When Cap tries to plan the school dance, he faces his greatest challenge, and potentially, the end of his reign as class president and pleasant distraction.
Schooled is a funny and poignant novel that will reach much of its audience. Although the idea of a stranger in a foreign land is not a new premise, Cap’s naiveté will feel fresh because the foreign land is here, and readers will be amazed simply by the notion that some teenager in the world has never watched TV, listened to the radio, or surfed the internet. Cap’s success in a hostile environment is hard-fought and deserved, and it serves as the moral high ground for the other characters (and readers). The easy-to-follow narrative style, entering the mind of a different character each chapter, helps to move the story briskly and give the reader a personal view into the changes that the characters experience after interacting with Cap. Although the ending is too pat and neat, it is moving, and the reader has already been touched by then. The resolution is less important than the journey, and Cap’s journey is worth sharing.


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