July 31, 2014

Jackpot: A Swindle Mystery

by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Press
978-0-545-56146-4
200 pp.
Ages 8-13
January 2014

Jackpot is Book 6 in Gordon Korman's Swindle series which began with Swindle (2009), Zoobreak (2010), Framed (2011), Showoff (2012) and Hideout (2013), all sporting covers with the quintessential Luthor.  And if you don't know who Luthor is, I recommend you read Books 1 through 5 first.

Darren Vader is a career bully (for a kid in middle grade), showing up in each of the previous Swindle books and causing untold grief to Griffin Bing and his friends Ben, Pitch, Logan, Melissa and Savannah. But things take a turn when Darren's mother, a lawyer, begins helping Griffin's father apply for a patent for his invention, the SweetPick.  When Darren gets up to more mischief, Griffin takes the blame for it, all to prevent Mrs. Vader from getting off track and Griffin's dad from becoming more anxious.

Feeling the need for getting even, Griffin enlists the help of his friends to prank the money-hungry bully with a news story about a missing lottery ticket (true) being lost in the garbage of their town (not true).  In an unforeseen twist, garbage hunters flock to Cedarville in search of that lottery ticket and wreak havoc, and Griffin and friends are given community service for their mischief and Darren warps himself into the role of the victim.

Griffin's moniker goes from "The Man With The Plan" to bully, even raising the ire of new student Victor Phoenix who has an answer for everything and becomes the new Man With The Plan.  No matter how Griffin tries to resurrect his friendships and reputation, he ends up looking more and more like a bully, just as Doberman Luthor does when around Victor's cat Penelope who is temporarily housed at Luthor's house.  Not surprising that Griffin and Luthor find themselves teaming up to try and make things right, even if it does include Darren Vader and that lottery ticket again.

Gordon Korman has long been successful at getting children reading, from his adventure (Dive, Everest, and Island), thriller (On the Run and Kidnapped) and humour (Macdonald Hall) series. In the Swindle series, the emphasis is on the farcical nature of friendships and perspective and Jackpot is no exception.  From the kids' views on themselves and others,
"No offense, Griffin, but stuff a sock in it," muttered Logan.  "I ought to have my head examined for following you and your cockamamie plans.  It's only a short step from community service to community theatre.  My talent belongs to the world, not some podunk playhouse." (pg. 32)
to  the fantastic imagery
The interior made the chaos of the porch seem neat.  Griffin had never been to the rain forest, but he'd always imagined it looking like this.  Long macramé planters and hangings dangled so low from the ceiling, and random stuff was piled so high on tabletops, that barely any light penetrated from the windows. (pg. 108)
the text oozes with atmosphere of levity and colour.  Coupled with the brisk dialogue and plotting, Jackpot is a fun and accessible read for young people, another example of Gordon Korman's knack for enticing new readers.

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I see Unleashed, Book 7, is set for release in January, 2015 so, if you haven't already, it's best to get caught up on your Swindle reading now!

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