I see Gordon Korman as a one-size-fits-all childrens’ writer. It’s tough to find a kid who doesn’t find something to like in his books. They’re readable. They’re accessible. There’s always a little humour and a few light life lessons. Korman has a good thing going, and Schooled is in these respects, classic Korman.
Cap (Capricorn) Anderson hasn’t done a lot of things. He’s never eaten pizza, never used a cell phone, doesn’t know about soap operas or school cafeterias or football teams or bank accounts. This is all due to the fact that he’s been raised and home-schooled by his hippie granny, Rain, on an alternative farm commune. After Rain breaks her hip while harvesting plums in their orchard, Cap is thrust into the “real world.” He moves in with a social worker and her teenage daughter and heads to the local middle school. The inevitable result is a whole lot of hilarity at Cap’s expense, not to mention considerable cringing as we witness an earnest and clueless Cap crash headlong into the 21st century. The nasty/popular crowd at C Average Middle School (nickname for Claverage M.S.) selects Cap as the perfect candidate for 8th Grade President with the intention of getting as many laughs as possible from the hapless home-schooled oddball. Naturally, the plan doesn’t take the kids in the direction they had predicted.
Like all of the other Korman books I’ve read, I put down Schooled feeling that it had been worth my time, and knowing that I could find many a kid or teenager who would be happy to read it. Korman can be right on with humour, and there are some honest chuckles to be had here as Cap encounters all of the confusion and crap and warmth and nastiness buzzing about the hallways of C Average Middle School. It’s a fun read, told in an multiple first-person narration which is engaging – if not conducive to nuanced characterization. There are some implausible elements that you just have to ignore (the school principal handing a book of signed checks to the Grade 8 President for social expenses), and some simple lessons that can handle some light pondering (what it means to be cool, etc.).
In my bloggy wanderings, I’ve noticed a few homeschooling reviewers not too pleased by Cap’s over-the-top strangeness. There are moments when he approaches the point of caricature. However, while Cap is weird, we’re rooting for him, and in the end, he’s the kid with complexity, understanding, and heart. I don’t think homeschoolers should be up in arms about this one. Also, it’s worth remembering that most MG / YA protagonists aren’t exactly the picture of normalcy. That’d make for some pretty boring reading. So don’t take it personally homeschoolers – we’ve got plenty of weird ones in the mainstream school system too. I’ve read numerous reviews in which Schooled is compared to Stargirl. Confession time: I have not read Stargirl (gasp!). I will read it soon, very soon, and let you know what I think about a possible Schooled / Stargirl combo-read for a teen book club near you.
I’ll leave you with a passage from the book that rang very true. It’s moments like this one that make Korman’s books worth reading:
“Garland Farm followed simple logic: you plant tomato seeds, you get tomato plants. No seeds, no tomatoes. Cause and effect. But a real school was so messy and random that solutions sometimes fell into place by sheer luck. It was almost like getting tomatoes without first planting seeds.”
I couldn’t agree more.