Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ungifted by Gordon Korman, 2012

The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like 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 by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students.

It wasn't exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn't be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.

This book is Gordon Korman at his best. It's also not very old, so that gives me hope for his future books. I hate it when an author kind of slowly slides down in quality until you go from great books to reading mud, you know? But this is definitely not the case with Gordon Korman. He's at the top of his game in Ungifted, and I love it!

Donovan is not gifted. At all. He's average in every sense of the word - but he does get in trouble more than the average person. He has what could almost be some form of ADHD or something, where once he thinks of an idea he just has to try it - no matter the conseqences. So it's business like usual when Donovan grabs a stick and whacks it across the giant behind of a large metal statue of Atlas (the guy, not the map) holding up the world. When things get a little out of hand, however, is when the world literally falls out of Atlas' hands. The world portion of the statue falls off, rolls down the hill, and crashes into a mega-expensive sports building full of screaming sports fans. No one is hurt, but Donovan's in trouble.
But wait. Y'see, the superintendant of the school made a mistake. He wrote Donovan's name on the paper with kids who go to the special school for gifted kids down the road. That's right, Donovan didn't get expelled - he got promoted. He decides to stick it out with the geniuses to save his parents from footing the bill for the gym, and that's when he starts to realize that those geeks and nerds are very cool in their own way - they just need a little push in the right direction from someone who doesn't spend all his time stressing about grades or some new science concept. But this uneasy answer won't last forever, and Donovan knows it's only a matter of time before the super-intendant finds him.

This book is flat out hilarious. That's the first thing I'll say. Donovan is a hoot, and everyone around him, from the serious genius girl who can't think about anything but getting into a good college, to the freakishly smart boy who wishes he were normal and didn't have to go to the smart kid school (and so tries desperately to flunk, a running punch-line throughout the book) - and who discovers the secrets of YouTube and is suddenly addicted.
The book is told alternating views between classmates at the Academy (the gifted school), the teachers, the super-intendant, Donovan himself, and Donovan's also funny (and highly pregnant) sister. It is very cool reading how everyone thinks about Donovan and sees him, which is somehow very different from how he sees himself in certain ways.

There is a reference throughout the book to an ancestor who survived the sinking of the Titanic, which for me (a tried-and-true Titaniac) was kind of a cool little tie-in to actual history. Also, for those who don't know Gordon Korman's works, he also wrote the Titanic trilogy and I find he fits in little references to the Titanic in many of his books. Got half an hour to kill? Ask me a question about the Titanic. Or books that even use the word titanic (i.e. "He took a titanic leap"). I probably know a little too much on the subject than it is really possibly to classify under "passing interest."

Katie (Donovan's sister)'s husband is stationed over-seas in the military, and rather than being anything bad her pregnancy is more of a running gag and something that comes in very handy when the Academy students realize they haven't taken "sex ed" yet - what's better education in that area than studying an actual child in vitro? Nothing inappropriate, and it's actually extremely sweet. 

This book is awesome, and I have given it as a gift to a friend who loves Wendy Mass books (who said she loves it). It is a great, great book and even if it might be a little tilted when it comes to what smart kids are like, so what? I'm a smart kid (though no Noah), and I don't mind. You come into the story knowing it's not really the way life is, and it's the story (not the "message") that is the reason you should read it.

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