A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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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