Donovan Curtis is definitely NOT what you'd call gifted. Unless you're referring to his trouble-making ability, at which he excels. So when Donovan accidentally causes a disaster that nearly destroys the school gym, he's certain he's gone to far. Thanks to a mix-up by a school administrator, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction- a school for the gifted. Donovan knows that it is only a matter of time before they figure out he doesn't belong but until then, it's the perfect place to hide out. But after an ongoing experiment with a live (and pregnant) sister, a dramatic school dance, and an astonishing come-from-behind robot victory, it turns out that Donovan's "gifts" may be exactly what the students at ASD needed.
I am a total Gordon Korman fan. Ever since he stood up in my sixth-grade assembly and pointed out the teacher who assigned him the writing project that became Macdonald Hall, I have religiously read and laughed at all of his books. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that he's one of the best when it comes to zany, madcap adventures for middle-grade- stories that appeal to the mischief-maker in all of us, and make us laugh until our sides hurt.
What I didn't expect, and was pleasantly surprised to discover about Ungifted, is that it is not only funny, but that it has depth- enough that it easily made my Canadian Library Association Book of the Year For Children Award committee's shortlist, and was a favourite with all of us.
Donovan is a trouble-maker- pure and simple. Neither particularly bright or academically challenged, He devotes a great deal of energy to playing pranks and causing trouble, but he's a surprisingly likable character. Korman makes no apologies or excuses for him- he simply is one of those kids. This is why, when after his latest prank (which results in unforeseen disaster), he's shocked when his parents receive a letter telling them that he's being transferred to a school for the academically gifted.
Again- you have to suspend your disbelief here- the mix-up is completely unlikely, and the idea that the District Superintendent would lose his name and take most of the book to trace him is completely insane. However, this is what happens, and what really sets the story in motion.
The Gifted Academy is fairly standard as far as our image of Gifted Kids goes. The students in Donovan's new class are insanely smart, but like child versions of the characters on The Big Bang Theory, they lack certain social skills. Being normal kids has been lost on them, and everything is about academics and their robotics club.
When Donovan shows up, the kids are immediately suspicious and puzzled. He is completely alien to them, and they look at him like he's a science experiment they don't quite get. The thing is- that even though Donovan is completely average in his academics, he's actually good for the rest of the group. He names the robot Tin Man, which never occurred to them to do. That, combined with Donovan's skill with a joystick (earning him the privilege of driving the robot in competition), emotionally invest the kids in the project, and earns him their admiration.
Told through the multiple perspectives of his classmates, his sister, and his teachers, readers will discover that being good at Math and Science alone do not make a person gifted. Donovan's gift is what he is able to do for the kids in his class- give them a sense of camaraderie, unity, and normalcy, and brings out the kid inside all of them.
Sensitively told, and laced with humour, this is a fantastic read for any kid whose ever tried to figure out what gifts they possess, and how they fit into the world.