Donovan Curtis is not gifted. He’s an average student and prankster who has managed to alienate almost every student and teacher in his middle school. His most recent episode – an irresponsible and mostly unintended act that wrecks the gym during basketball season – lands him in the superintendent’s office without a prayer of redemption. But instead of getting punished, a paperwork snafu sends Donovan to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, a school for gifted and talented students. It is against this fish-out-of-water backdrop that Gordon Korman weaves yet another unique and entertaining story in Ungifted.
Each chapter in this episodic, fast-paced story is told by a different first-person narrator, including Donovan, several of the gifted students and teachers, and even the superintendent. Teachers will find this book useful when teaching different points of view. And as the book progresses, we see almost every character grow and change. The gifted students, motivated by the presence of an academically-average student in their midst, find creativity and courage. Teachers are forced to examine what it really means to be gifted. Donovan’s family members learn to see their son and brother in a new light. And Donovan learns valuable lessons about friendship, responsibility, and commitment.
It’s no secret that Korman is one of my favorite tween authors. That’s probably because his books usually tell a new story. Let’s face it: many popular tween authors (and adult authors, too) write basically the same book over and over again. The characters are different and the settings are a little bit different, but the conflict and plot structure are basically the same. We won’t mention any names, but experienced teachers and media specialists are thinking of several examples. And to be honest, there’s nothing really wrong with that. But Korman doesn’t take the well-traveled path. When you pick up one of his books, you’re going to get a story that hasn’t been told before.
The only complaint I’ve heard about this book involves the stereotypical, almost cartoony depiction of the gifted students. To those comments, I would say that this falls within the realm of humor. Ungifted isn’t a serious examination of classes for the academically talented. It’s a fun book designed to entertain middle grade readers. If a student says, “I’m in the gifted program, and nobody is that geeky,” then simply agree with them and use the opportunity to teach the concept of humorous character construction. And point out that there’s nobody in your school quite like Donovan Curtis, either.
Having a few copies of Ungifted in your library or classroom gives you the opportunity to provide your students with a story that’s never been told before. Recommend this book without reservation to your tween readers. Put it alongside the dozens of Gordon Korman books already in your collection.