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Schooled by Gordan Korman

August 3, 2009

Schooled by Gordan Korman
published by Hyperion July 31, 2007

When I saw that this novel was about a homeschooled boy making the transition to public middle school, after living a sheltered life, I couldn’t resist picking it up. We all know my weakness for books about homeschoolers. However, I had a feeling I was going to be put off by the way home educators are portrayed. And I was.

Capricorn Anderson is that apocryphal homeschooler everyone seems to be worried about — unsocialized and so sheltered he can’t cope in the real world. Yes, seriously. He has been raised by his over-the-top retro-hippie grandma at Garland, which was once a thriving sixties commune. Now it’s just the two of them. His grandmother, Rain, is the only person he knows, and he has rarely had contact with other people.

When Cap’s grandmother is injured, he has to temporarily live with a social worker, who happens to have been raised on Rain’s commune herself. He also has to attend public middle school — a place where the harsh caste system and relentless bullying seem just as over-the-top and Rain’s flower-child mentality. There is nothing subtle in this book. Or maybe I’ve just been away from middle school too long.

When Cap arrives at Claverage (“C Average”) Middle School, with long hair and sandals made from corn husks, having never seen a locker or a PA system, he becomes the prime target for the “cool” kids, who are cruel bullies. However, his tormenters find he’s not what they expected.

Despite my negative reaction to the story’s premise, and although I did not feel the characters were developed in depth, I found myself enjoying it. Told from the perspective of a variety of characters, including Cap himself, it offers a glimpse at middle school life, which one character calls, “a cheesy, pre-packaged rehearsal for being alive,” that is satirical and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

One of my favorite parts was the main character’s description of riding the school bus, which — having ridden my share of school buses and put my own kids on a few — struck me as dead-on:

“If I’d ever questioned why Rain and her friends gave up on city life in San Francisco and founded Garland back in 1967, five minutes on that bus explained it. The dark underbelly of the human animal was turned loose on the vehicle. It was crowded, noisy, dirty, rowdy, and uncomfortable. People fought, shrieked, threw things at one another, and tormented the hapless driver. It was an insane asylum on wheels.”

I recommend this as a fun read, especially for pre-teens and teenagers. And because of his sense of humor, I will probably look for more books by this author.

For a more detailed review — from a different perspective — see this post at Bloggin’ ’bout Books


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