Thursday, October 10, 2013

Young People’s Pavilion: Ungifted by Gordon Korman

ungiftedThe 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.

Ungifted, by Gordon Korman has a bit of everything: action, some truly laugh-out-loud moments, and some seriously great characters. Donovan is a character we can all relate to. Sure, he’s a troublemaker. With his poor impulse control and his recklessness, chaos follows him wherever he goes. But hasn’t everyone felt ungifted at some time in their lives? In fact, if Donavan has one gift, it is the gift of troublemaking. Then there’s Donovan’s quirky teacher, Mr. Osborne … every child’s dream teacher. Chloe, and Abigail, Noah, and Katie round out the cast of supporting characters and help create a great reading experience.
As an average student, Donovan is the proverbial fish out of water at the Academy, at least to start with. Soon though, he and the other students start to realize that Donovan is exactly what the Academy needed: a breath of fresh air and limitless creativity. Its short chapters alternate between several characters’ point of view including Donovan’s, some of his teachers’ and a few of his fellow students’ at the Academy.
Korman displays his usual knack for engaging prose by comparing the day to day life of highly gifted students and that of “normal” students. Expectations can shape the life of students (gifted or not ) and the work underscores this idea. It also shows how labelling in classrooms can be problematic and how separating talented students from the rest of the student body is not a “best practice.” This is especially true when it completely sets them apart and they don’t even get a chance to interact socially.The story’s steady progress makes for an entertaining read and I didn’t want to put the book down. The manner in Donovan manages to get away with his trouble-making tendencies as well as the hero-worship for his daring-do are reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Donovan is a godsend to the two gifted kids, Chloe and Noah. Both,  understandably, wish their learning experience was not separated from the rest of the student body. They too want a more “normal” life.

EXCERPT:

UNEARTHED
DONOVAN CURTIS
IQ: 112

I want a refund from ancestry.com.
They traced my family all the way back to the revolution. And in all those forefathers and foremothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there was nobody like me. No bigmouth hung for treason; no “classe clowne” who they stuck in the stocks and threw rotten vegetables at. The closest match was this guy in the Civil War who jumped off a battlement, whatever that is. And he only did it because the Union army was firing on Fort Sumter. That’s what they put on his tombstone, anyway. It sounds like a pretty good excuse to me.
I did things like that. If there were any battlements in my neighborhood, I’d probably jump off them all. And not because of any army. I’d do it just to see what would happen. Reckless, my mother called me. “Poor impulse control.” That’s the school psychologist. “You’re going to break your idiot neck one day, or someone’s going to break it for you.” My dad.
He was probably right. They were all right. But when the thing is right there in front of me, and I can kick it, grab it, shout it out, jump into it, paint it, launch it, or light it on fire, it’s like I’m a puppet on a string, powerless to resist. I don’t think; I do.
It can be little things, like throwing darts at a pool float to test my sister’s swimming skills, or spitting back at the llamas at the zoo. It can be more creative – a helium balloon, a fishhook, and Uncle Mark’s toupee. It can even be the smart-alecky comments that got me voted Most Likely to Wind Up in Jail in my middle school the last two years running.

“Our fans are great; our team is nifty. We’re going to get blown out by fifty.”
See, that was probably not the wisest thing to say on the day of the big game against our basketball arch-rivals, Salem Junior High. But I didn’t just say it; I broadcast it over the PA system to the entire school. I don’t know why I did it. The rhyme was already fully-formed – the poster advertising the big game had planted it there. It was definitely going to come out. Why share it with only the two Daniels, who were with me in the office awaiting sentence for our spitball war, when there was a perfectly good microphone a few feet away, unattended and live. Okay, it wasn’t live. I had to flick the switch.
The howl of protest that went up all around the building surprised even me. It was like I’d gone from house to house, poisoning everybody’s dog. It was probably for my own good that I wound up in detention. If I’d been free in the halls at three-thirty, I would have been lynched. The sense of humor at Hardcastle Middle School didn’t extend to their precious basketball team.
“Why’d you say we’re going to lose, man?” asked Whelan Kaiser, starting center, peering down at the top of my head from his six-foot-four vantage.
Why? There was no logical explanation for what I did. It had to come from my DNA. That’s why I needed ancestry.com.
I was the only kid in detention that afternoon. All crimes had been forgiven in order to pad the audience for the big game against Salem, which had to have already started. All crimes except mine – dissing the basketball team. Even the Daniels – two-thirds of the spitball war – had been cut loose while I was doing time.
The Daniels weren’t at the game. I knew this because they were skulking in the bushes outside the detention room, making grotesque faces at me through the window. If they could make me laugh – and it wasn’t easy to hold back – I’d be in even more trouble. As it was, Mr. Fender was checking his watch every thirty seconds. He wanted to be at the game, not babysitting me.
Finally, he could bear it no longer. “I’ll be right back,” he told me sternly.
The instant he was gone, the window was flung open from the outside.
“Come on!” hissed Daniel Sanderson. “Let’s get out of here!”
“He’s coming back,” I protested.
“No, he’s not,” scoffed the other Daniel – Daniel Nussbaum. “He’s going to the office to watch the feed from the security camera in the gym. You’ve only got ten more minutes. If he’s any kind of basketball fan, you’re golden.”
I was out the window like a shot, breathing sweet free air. See what I’m saying? The open road called, and I took it. This time I’d needed a little help. That’s where the Daniels came in. They helped me a lot. They’d helped me to the office with our spitball fight, and helped me to the PA mike by daring me to do it. With friends like them, sometimes I wondered why I would ever need enemies.
I turned on them. “Thanks for letting me take the fall alone. Your support was really touching.”
Nussbaum shrugged innocently. “I couldn’t take credit for your poem.”
“It wasn’t a poem. It just happened to rhyme.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” Sanderson put in. “Don’t you think that’s kind of dorky? I mean, who rhymes anymore?”


Excerpt Used by Permission

No comments: