17 July 2010

Schooled by Gordon Korman

A nice thing about being a fan of middle grade and young adult fiction is that the novels can often be read in a matter of hours.  Since Charlie was born, I’ve been able to read nonfiction, which is easy to set aside and return to, but engrossing adult novels remain a problem.  Last one I read was Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell and I so did not want to leave that world.  For several days I carried guilt over resenting my dear child’s intrusions while I gobbled up that yummy story.

When I sat down with Gordon Korman’s Schooled, my intent was to read only a few chapters but the story was so likeable, well paced and witty that I was unable to put it down until I finished the book.   The gist is that Cap (Capricorn) Anderson attends public school for the first time during his grandmother’s hospitalization after an accident on the hippie commune of which they are the only remaining residents.  As part of a traditional school lark, this “clueless” boy who was raised in isolation is thrust into the role of eighth grade class president for the purpose of entertaining the student body.

Korman paints Cap with tenderness and irony while narrowly avoiding the trap of making him into an iconic deity or empty stereotype.  The boy has garnered a degree of spiritual wisdom and the naivety of a “holy fool” archetype, but he’s also an adolescent with human desires and fallibilities.  Chapters are narrated from the perspectives of alternating characters in a way that manages to retain the reader’s engagement and add a measure of multi-dimensionality to the characters; at least none are expressly vilified.  Indeed, Schooled provides ample opportunity for learning, as the title references not just Cap’s induction into the mainstream world, but the self understanding and transformation which touches everyone who plays a part in this humorous juxtaposition of classic hippie idealism in the twenty-first century.

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