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Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Masterminds Book Poster Image
Mystery, adventure, laughs in imaginative series start.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids who know something of history and current events will get a kick out of the alternate, sanitized version the kids get in Serenity -- such as the Boston Tea Party, with participants sitting around sipping tea and exchanging chitchat. Cloning plays an important role in the story, which may spark discussion of the relevant science. Eli's technical skills, especially accessing the Internet, come in handy, and readers may pick up a bit of knowledge here and there. They'll also get a little foreign-language vocabulary, such as Serenity's newspaper bring the Daily Pax.

Positive Messages

Strong, often humorous messages about friendship, problem solving, working together, and how it takes everybody's very different talents to get the job done.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Eli is smart, resourceful, and determined. The other kids, even Malik the bully, develop as characters as they learn more and in the process come to value one another beyond their stereotypical middle-school relationships. Many kids will empathize as they struggle to figure out the right thing to do when all the conventional wisdom they've grown up with turns out to be essentially a lie.


The kids discover that they can't leave town, because an unseen force inflicts terrible pain on them. Adults are drugging one of the kids to make him forget what he knows about strange events. Weeding Day is coming up, when 14-year-old kids seem to vanish. An important character dies in a truck crash. Fleeing their pursuers, Eli inadvertently injures one of them and is horrified: "It's the first time I've ever drawn blood from another person." In another fight scene, a character hits a pursuer with a bottle of Gatorade. One of the girls stomps on Malik's foot when he bullies Eli.


An adult character is said to have flatulence; one kid calls another a "spaz."


Eli's iPad and Xbox are essential tools in the story. Mentions of eBay, Photoshop, Google, and so on as part of atmosphere and character definition. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the characters realizes he's being drugged to make him forget something he's learned (and stops taking the drugs).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that bestselling author Gordon Korman's new middle-grade series is off to a promising start with intriguing characters, slapstick, suspense, explosions, and hard-earned wisdom. Five young residents of Serenity, New Mexico (which proudly boasts the best quality of life, and practically everything else, in the world), start to notice that, in the words of one of their friends, "there's something screwy going on in that town." In fact, very little is what it seems: not the factory that employs all the adults in town, not the town's relentlessly upbeat newspaper and (they learn) sanitized Internet, not the parents they've known their whole lives, and not even themselves. An important character dies in a crash; sinister adults with scary technology pose a growing threat; and one kid is hospitalized and drugged to make him forget what he's learned.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byPaden'sMom March 1, 2016

Masterminds brought all ages together

This book was great for our youngest to finally get back into fiction!! He had been in a non-fiction rut, but the entire family enjoyed this book, and we cannot... Continue reading
Adult Written byCharles R. September 13, 2017
The whole family loved Masterminds (and its 2 sequels). We couldn't put them down and discussed them every day while reading them. It made for great conv... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old December 29, 2015

My Favourite Book!

I loved this book so much! I would read it over and over again! This is a great mystery novel. I loved it and found it quite interesting. The first bit of the b... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bygamergrl13 May 4, 2017


I hate reading books, but this is one of the few books that I actually read! It's engaging, it has a great plot, it's an amazing mystery, it's fu... Continue reading

What's the story?

Brainiac Eli, overachieving Amber, artistic Tori, bully Malik, and Hector "the shrimp," who does most of Malik's schoolwork, have lived their whole lives -- from 11 to 13 years -- in the idyllic town of Serenity, New Mexico, and, except for Malik, who can't wait to go to "NYC," they don't see much reason to leave. But a series of curious events reveals that they're essentially prisoners, and very little they know is what it seems to be, starting with their parents and the kids themselves. As one sinister discovery leads to another, they realize they have to escape to the outside world they've only heard bad things about.

Is it any good?

Author Gordon Korman is a skilled storyteller, and this first installment in the MASTERMINDS series bodes well. There's plenty of humor, suspense, and believable middle-school dynamics as the kids take turns telling the story, making discoveries, and coming to terms with the sinister reality behind their perfect lives. Young readers also will relate to the poignant side as the young characters deal with their worlds falling apart: "One minute you think you've got your life figured out," Eli muses. "The next it shatters like a glass bowl hitting a stone patio." The ending leaves many issues to be resolved and sets up future adventures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of stories about small towns in the middle of nowhere where things aren't what they seem. What other examples do you know? 

  • One of the big questions in Masterminds is whether it's your genes that make you who you are or whether your family life and other influences matter more. What do you think?

  • Take some event that's happening in the real world and write a version of it that would make it into Serenity's censored, always-happy media.

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