Ungifted – Review

Gordon Korman. Ungifted. New York: Balzer and Bray, 2012. Print.

Gordon Korman has become my favorite Young Adult (YA) novelist. His protagonists are fairly typical young teens who find themselves in unusual situations. Son of the Mob is told by a kid who wants to lead a normal life when his father is a Mafia kingpin. Born to Rock is told by a somewhat low-key nerd who discovers his natural father is an aging rock musician who was a heavy-metal god in the eighties.

The protagonist of Ungifted is Donovan, a typically impulsive middle schooler who by an unusual coincidence ends up at his school district’s “gifted” school–except for the academic challenges, the school is a palatial reprieve from the run-down middle school he had attended. Donovan actually finds himself fitting in at the school because he sees things in a “normal” way–a perspective his sheltered and “well-lopsided” classmates miss.

His story is told my multiple narrators, adults and kids, and the varying points of view make for an entertaining mix.

The characters provide much of the fun: The bureaucratic superintendent whose goal is not to goof up, the snobby eight grader Abigail who is already trying to pad her college resume, or the socially clueless Noah with the 200 I.Q. who sees himself trapped in the gifted school the same way Catch-22‘s Yossarian finds himself trapped in the army.

Without giving away too much of the hilarious but believable plot, Donovan figures out a way to keep the gifted kids from going to summer school because the district forgot to schedule their mandated sex education. At the same time he tries to keep investigators from the district’s insurance company at bay and pass classes in subjects that he does not even begin to understand. Oh, a big fight breaks out at the gifted school’s first ever school dance, exotic uploads to YouTube gain many hits, and we are told of many other things that ring out “modern teen.” Korman milks the fish-out-of-water theme for another quick romp in the life of teens.

One part of the story hit really close to home for this reviewer. Donovan’s 26-year-old sister had moved back home to have her baby because her soldier husband was stationed in an overseas war zone. As I was reading Ungifted, our 25-year-old daughter had moved back with us to have her baby (she turned 26 two weeks later) while her husband was working in a foreign country with marginal health care. Fortunately, he was not fighting any battles, so he could join her in time to be present at the birth of our first grandchild. 🙂

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