Last summer, this book was so popular around the summer school kids that even the principal asked to borrow my copy so she could read it. After she returned it to me, it took a while before I had time to read it. And then it took even a couple more months before I had time to write this review, but here goes!
Author: Gordon Korman
Genre: contemporary realistic fiction
Age group: middle grade
Inside cover flap: “The word gifted has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like Don’t try this at home. So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students. It wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teacher of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything).”
As a teacher of gifted students, I always like to see them featured in books. Unfortunately, they are often stereotyped, and I felt this occurred in Ungifted. For example, gifted students are often perceived as socially awkward and nerdy. However, that is certainly not always the case. While some gifted children may fall within the autism spectrum, most of them do not. And most of them are very aware of their social interactions with their peers. In fact, many specialists in gifted education talk about the varying types of “intensities” gifted children can experience, including being hyperaware of their social interactions and emotions.
As a quick example of the bad stereotyping, in the book Ungifted, a boy named Noah (who has the highest IQ in the school) is completely unaware of YouTube and has to be introduced to it. Not only do my gifted students know what YouTube is, they have their own YouTube channels with faithful followers (900 of them!) and post videos weekly.
Later in the book, Noah says he wishes he could go to a regular school because the gifted kids are under such pressure that they never laugh. Ha! I’ll laugh at that. If I had a dime for every time, my gifted students laugh in school, my salary would double. Sure, some of them are under tremendous pressure from their parents, but most of them still find plenty of reasons to laugh. In fact, a good sense of humor is usually a sign of intelligence, so gifted kids tend to get jokes some other students might not.
That being said, I did like the character Chloe, who is a gifted girl who just wants to prove that not all gifted kids are social outcasts. She has some funny lines, too. For example, she’s always coming up with hypotheses, and when her dad says she looks beautiful after getting ready for her first ever school dance, she comes up with the hypothesis “The compliment loses credibility in direct proportion to how closely related you are to the speaker.” Ha! So true!
My problem is that Chloe shouldn’t have to prove to everyone that gifted kids aren’t social outcasts. I’d like to see a book with gifted children that shows their depth and complexity. One that includes a gifted kid who’s also a sports jock or a theater prodigy or the most popular kid in school.
While I found some of the book’s lines to be funny, I won’t be recommending it to my students. They deserve a better representation of who they are.