HarperCollins, 2015 323 pgs.
Eli lives in what is thought to be a perfect town. Everyone in Serenity, New Mexico has a nice house with a swimming pool, a job, and enough to live comfortably. Some of the thirty kids who live there find it boring, but that's better than being out in the dirty and dangerous rest of the world, right? When Eli's rebellious best friend is sent to boarding school under mysterious circumstances, Eli finds a note that Randy secretly left behind. Randy thinks that some of the kids in Serenity are "special" and that all is not as it seems. Now other young narrators (five in all) help Eli tell the story, as they discover the truth about the purpose of their hometown and what makes them special. First they discover that the adults in town are keeping them ignorant of how the world really works and even their internet is censored to leave out undesirable information. Next, they figure out that the plastic cone factory in town is not what it seems to be and is actually a decoy for other work. Their investigations must be done in secret, away from the prying eyes of their parents or of the "Purple People Eaters"; Serenity's police force. The dangerous situations increase as the kids unveil more of the truth behind the real history of their town. Finally, they reveal a big secret about their own identities, which forces them to make a big decision concerning their futures and leads them on a dangerous and unexpected adventure.
With more than eighty books for young people under his belt, Gordon Korman knows his way around a children's book. He writes for kids with respect, humor, and non-stop action. He knows what they like to read and appeals to reluctant readers. Masterminds is a great start to a trilogy that will not disappoint Korman fans and may earn him some new ones. Written much in the vein of Margaret Peterson Haddix, this exciting book is plot intensive with a mystery which leads to a rollicking adventure and contains a science fiction twist. When the secret behind some of the children in the town is revealed, I was truly surprised. The multiple narrators add interest to the story and, thanks to the chapter headings identifying who is talking and the characters distinct voices and personalities, do not get confusing. There are no comic illustrations, no supernatural elements, just great storytelling with a believable, yet surprising twist explained by real science. The book will be enjoyed by both boys and girls and by both kids who love to read and reluctant readers. Cliff-hanging chapter endings will keep readers turning pages. The children escape the town and end up at their desired destination, giving the book some closure, yet threads still dangle. It will be interesting to know where Korman takes these young people next and luckily we don't have to wait. Read Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, released last month, to find out!