March 03, 2015

Masterminds

by Gordon Korman
HarperCollins Canada
978-1-443428726
323 pp.
Ages 8-12
February, 2015

Don't be fooled by the 185 cheerful residents and the social perfection–no poverty, no crime, no unemployment–of Serenity, New Mexico, with its mandate of honesty, harmony and contentment. Behind all that sunniness hides a darkness of secrecy that would shatter the town's status as #1 in the USA for the standard of living.  And it all starts to fall apart with a simple, innocent bike ride beyond the town limits.

Eli Frieden is the only son of the town mayor and school principal, Felix Frieden, and best friend of Randy Hardaway, a less-than-perfect thirteen-year-old who is definitely not a poster-boy-for-the-town. When the two ride out, Eli succumbs to a blinding headache and nausea and the police, the Surety a.k.a. the Purple People Eaters, the security force for the Serenity Plastic Works, miraculously fly in by chopper and rescue the two boys. And then Randy is sent away.

Meanwhile, twelve-year-old artistically-inclined Tori Pritel, a girl with whom Eli finds it really easy to talk, is drawn into supporting Eli while her own best friend, Amber Laska, the school's overachiever and list-making teacher's daughter, is secretly asking her own questions.  When two arborists come into town, Amber notices a newspaper in their truck and, with permission (she is a perfect Serenity student), she reads about things with which she is totally unfamiliar: murder, terrorism, power, war, homicide. On the other hand, her nemesis, the annoying Malik Bruder, the doctor's son, has always been negative about the town and its rules, determined to leave as soon as he is old enough.  His pint-sized sidekick Hector Amani, whose parents generally pay little attention to him, is happy to follow his supposed best friend.

A secret letter from Randy, a fiasco with the WiFi, and some late-night reconnaissance at the Serenity Plastic Works, the largest employer in town, have the kids demonstrating all the negative behaviours that have been eliminated from Serenity: lying, cheating, sneaking around, breaking and entering, stealing, and opposing authority.  And, I have to tell you, readers will be completely supportive of their actions!

Where does Gordon Korman come up with his ideas?  Masterminds is yet another completely unique series from the master of middle-grade plotting.  No way will the reader see what's coming.  There are so many subplots and threads of characters' experiences that need to come together to provide that exclamation of understanding.  And writing Masterminds in the voices of the five kids allows Gordon Korman to make it all mesh so perfectly.  With humour and suspense, too.

While this first book in the new series ends well-that doesn't mean a happy ending, though–Gordon Korman flawlessly sets the kids up for their next adventure in Book 2, a book already on my radar.

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