Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, was published in 2015 by Balzer + Bray.
Eli Frieden lives in the most perfect town in the world: Serenity, New Mexico. In this idyllic place, every lawn is perfectly manicured and everyone has a pool and a tree house. Honesty and integrity are valued above all else. The thirty kids who live there never lie—they know it’s a short leap from that to the awful problems of other, less fortunate places. Eli has never left Serenity…why would he ever want to? Then one day he bikes to the edge of the city limits and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything. Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, connecting their ideal crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known. The kids realize they can trust no one—least of all their own parents…
I read Gordon Korman a lot as a teenager and loved him. However, I found Masterminds more disappointing than some of his other works—or perhaps I’ve just outgrown him.
First, I found the entire premise a little hard to swallow—and maybe I’m supposed to let go and suspend disbelief, but it’s hard when what I like most in a story is a well-built world. I think Korman is going some interesting places with the whole nature vs. nurture, are you born evil or do you become evil theme, but I still didn’t find any of it very realistic—or even convincing.
Second, Korman falls back on the old tried-and-true-but-dreadfully-boring-and-overused character types: Sporty Athletic Girl, Girl Obsessed With Weight And Grades, Large Aggressive Bully-Type Boy, Scrawny Nerdy Unathletic Boy, Brainy Or Average Boy Who Becomes The Leader Of The Pack. And yes, there are boys and girls exactly like that today, but that doesn’t make the characters any less tiring. I feel like every story about kids going to school and having adventures has those iterations, and I want something that’s a little more developed and original and nuanced and not so trope-y. Maybe have the Sporty Athletic Girl be super shy or something (because in the books I’ve read they never are).
So, Masterminds isn’t really something I would pick up and read again (as I would with other Korman books), and although parts of it were fun, I found most of it rather disappointing. The characters were stale and the premise was too unbelievable for me to really get into and enjoy the book.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic, Science Fiction
“Tell me what happened to you.”
“You saw Randy’s letter,” he says stiffly. “You didn’t believe it.”
I stare at him. “What does the letter have to do with being sick?”
“I wasn’t sick. I showed the note to my father and he spent the next two weeks feeding me full of pills to make me forget it ever existed.”