In my recent review of Gordon Korman’s Ungifted, I mentioned that Korman always provides the reader with unique scenarios and plots. His recent book, Masterminds, continues that tradition, with a great deal of success. Basically stated, Gordon’s done it again.
Eli Frieden lives in the tiny, perfect town of Serenity, New Mexico. In fact, he’s never left Serenity, which is our first clue that something’s not quite right. One day Eli and his friend Randy decide to take a bike ride out of town. A few miles out of town, Eli becomes violently ill and soon a helicopter with a Serenity’s security force team swoops down to collect the boys. Within a few days Randy is sent away to live with his grandparents. A note left by Randy motivates Eli and his friends to investigate their perfect town, and to find the real reason they’ve never left Serenity.
I won’t give you any more plot details because I think you’ll really enjoy the book and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Once they begin looking, Eli and his friends uncover clues that reveal the true reason for their perfect existence. And believe me, it’s nothing you would think of on your own. I don’t know where Korman is getting these ideas, but I hope there’s a healthy stash somewhere.
Like Ungifted, Masterminds is told by a different first-person narrator each chapter. Each member of Eli’s “team” gets at least a couple of turns. This technique allows the reader to get to know each main character, and more importantly, what they truly think about each other. Teachers will enjoy using this book as a read-aloud to subtly teach point of view.
At 336 pages, Masterminds is quite a bit longer than the typical tween novel, and the plot is delivered in a slow boil of suspense. The reader gets the chance to solve the mystery of Serenity right along with the tween sleuths. Korman treats his audience with respect; nobody trips and falls down on top of a clue. No conspirator decides to tell a long story that explains everything. All new information is obtained by thoughtful, intelligent, and observant kids. They take their time and figure things out, just like the reader. And in a good mystery, that’s the way it should be.
By the end of the book, we know the secret of Serenity, and our tween heroes are at a crossroads. There’s a modicum of completion, but really I’m ready to keep going with the story. Masterminds is the first book in a planned three-book set, and it appears that it will take all three books to tell the story. (This is typical for Gordon Korman books.) The first book was released in February, 2015 with the second and third books scheduled for February 2016 and 2017. So basically, it will be another 18 months before I know how this story ends. That’s the publisher’s decision, not Korman’s. But would it really be that bad to release the books at 6 month intervals? If I give this book to a 7th grader, can I really expect him or her to wait until they’re in 9th grade to see how the story ends? That may seem like a minor quibble, but librarians and teachers have been dealing with this for years. “I loved this book! Can I get the next one?” Oops.
Masterminds combines great storytelling with great writing and a typically unique Korman-esque premise. Buy several copies for your library, and be on the look-out for the new book each February. Teachers – in a couple of years you’ll have a great 3-book read-aloud for your class. Until then, pick up Korman’s 6-book “On the Run” series to read to your students.