A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that when best-selling author Gordon Korman (Supergifted) writes a book called The Unteachables, it's a safe bet that pretty much everyone in its pages will learn important life lessons before it's over. But not before there's a lot of comic mayhem, and sweetness from unlikely quarters. As in Korman's other middle school tales, a misunderstanding (here, a student who's not actually enrolled in a class -- she just shows up every day because it's easier) leads to a lot of life-changing ripple effects. Characters face a lot of challenges, discover unexpected strengths, and form strong, if unlikely, bonds. Some of them are dealing with issues like stepparents, dyslexia, and elderly relatives with dementia, and a cheating scandal in the distant past is still causing misery. There's lots of humor involving pee, barf, and other gross substances, but also lots of positive messages about friendship, loyalty, collaboration, creative problem-solving, and making amends for past misdeeds.
What's the story?
Uprooted from her regular school in California and sent to live with her father and his new family while her mom's working on a movie, eighth grader Kiana mistakenly lands among THE UNTEACHABLES -- who are definitely a strange bunch of 14-year-olds. There's Parker the farm kid, who has a provisional driver's license, a grandma with dementia, and also dyslexia. Aldo, who's got some anger-management issues and kicks things a lot. Elaine ("rhymes with pain") -- even the football players are scared of her. And more. Into all this comes burned-out teacher Zachary Kermit, who's counting the days till early retirement and determined not to let the kids get to him. Kiana, likewise, figures she'll put in a few weeks with these guys until it's time to go back home. As told by various characters in turn, many things conspire to derail these happy plans, starting with the brazen theft of a truckload of vuvuzelas (those loud horns that appear at sports games and during school Spirit Weeks).
Is it any good?
Gordon Korman's latest ode to middle school misfits is full of mayhem, humor, unlikely bonding, and meaningful life lessons. The kids in The Unteachables show unlikely ways of righting wrongs and making things better, and most of the adults in their world are complex and relatable -- even, momentarily, the villainous Superintendent Thaddeus, as he begins to suspect there may be forces in play he hadn't counted upon:
""No defense of a teacher should include a sentence that ends with 'fell in the river,'" I cut her off.
""The students didn't fall," she persists. "They jumped in because they thought they had to rescue Zachary (Kermit). Remember the kids we're talking about -- some of the most difficult and antisocial we've ever seen. But they're loyal to him. Why?"
"Twelve hours later, as I lie in bed, trying to sleep, that why? is still reverberating inside my skull."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Unteachables focuses on "problem" students -- and how the story becomes more complicated than you first assume. What other stories like this do you know? How do they compare to this one -- and to author Gordon Korman's other stories?
Do you think it would be cool to have a driver's license like Parker (who's 14 and drives a farm truck) when you'd normally be too young? Or are you fine with waiting till you're old enough?
Do you know anyone with dyslexia or another reading disability? Have they found a way to work around it? What helped them?
- Author: Gordon Korman
- Genre: Humor
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Middle School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Balzer + Bray
- Publication date: January 8, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: August 22, 2019
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