Thursday, July 23, 2009

Schooled Looks at Life On Mars, I Mean, Middle School

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Claverage Middle School might as well be Mars for 13-year-old Capricorn Anderson. Raised on an isolated farming commune, he's wholly unprepared for the noise, the bullying, the chaos that defines junior high. But with Rain, his grandmother and guardian, in the hospital, Cap really doesn't have a choice - it's either Claverage (dubbed "C Average" by the student body) or a group home. He'll take Claverage, even if it embodies everything that's wrong with the "money-hungry rat race of modern society" (4) from which Rain has tried so hard to shield him.

Schooled by Gordon Korman tells the story of tie-dye wearing, peace-loving Cap, as he navigates his way through the alien world of C Average. His hippie clothes, scraggly hair, and complete innocence (When a teacher accuses him of being a regular Jerry Seinfeld, he replies in all seriousness, "You must have me confused with another student. My name is Capricorn Anderson." [19]) make him the perfect target for some good, old-fashioned bullying. Because he's never experienced meanness in his life, Cap can't understand why he keeps finding spitballs in his hair, why kids direct him to classrooms that don't exist, or why he's suddenly been elected eighth grade class president.

For Zach Powers, the most popular boy in 8th Grade, Capricorn Anderson provides the perfect opportunity to prove exactly who's boss at C Average Middle School. As the Big Kahuna on Campus, it's his right to find the biggest nerd around, electing him class president, and watch him stumble through the job like an idiot. Cap's too perfect - when Zach informs him that the class president has to hold press conferences in the geography lab, the hippie kid searches the school for the fictional classroom. When Zach tells him the president has to know the name of every kid in school, Cap memorizes the yearbook. Cap's utterly guileless, and it's irking Zach to no end. It's just no fun picking on a kid who has no idea he's being picked on. The worst part is, some of his posse actually feel sorry for Cap - weirdly enough, the oddest kid ever to walk C Average's halls, is quickly becoming Zach's biggest rival.

Capricorn Anderson hardly realizes there is such a thing as a middle school hierarchy, let alone his changing place in it. All he wants is to get back to the commune, where he can breathe fresh air, harvest his fruit, and live in perfect harmony with nature and the one person who really understands him, his grandma. Zach wants nothing more than to grant him his wish. What happens when the Kahuna and the hippie kid collide? Well, Bob Dylan's immortal words describe it pretty well: The Times They Are A'Changin'. With Capricorn Anderson in the house, C Average will never be the same again.

Fresh and funny, Schooled provides a unique take on the familiar subject of identity. Capricorn Anderson - a boy who's too pure to be anything but authentic - shows readers exactly what it means to be true to oneself. Never preachy, the story's simply different, fun, and entertaining - with a message that comes across loud and clear. I adored it.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for some junior high-type humor (nothing really crass, just a lot of talk about wedgies and such).

3 comments:

  1. Oh I loved this book. I read it only a couple of months ago (it's one of the Florida Sunshine State Books) and laughed hysterically.

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  2. My son loves Gordon Korman and he's just going into middle school. I need to get this for him. It looks great.

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  3. Beautiful review! And I appreciated your comment on my less-than-glowing review of this book -- I love discussion. :-)

    I also admire the way you give the books movie-like ratings to help people decide what's right for them or their kids. I'm thinking about adding that feature to my blog. (Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery -- *LOL*)

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