Gordon Korman wrote his first novel, This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, as a seventh grade English project. By the time he was 21 years old, he had published nine novels for children and young adults.
As you might expect from novels written by a high schooler, they ain't Shakespeare. However, they are some of the goshdarned funniest books you will ever read.
Pretty much all of Korman's early novels have the same basic plot: "Two friends hatch a plan. Wacky hijinks ensue." If you think this might get boring after three or four books, allow me to assure you. It doesn't.
I Want To Go Home!
The Friends: Rudy Miller (the Ringleader) and Mike Webster (the Straight Man)
The Plan: To escape Camp Algonkian "Alcatraz" Island and go home
I Want To Go Home! is my favorite of Korman's early novels. Although its cast of secondary characters is smaller and arguably less colorful than his more developed Bruno and Boots series, they play perfectly off one of Korman's best heroes: the poker-faced Rudy Miller, who is good at everything and wants to do nothing.
A Short Excerpt:
Dear Mom and Dad,
This place is terrible. Every day I am subjected to countless atrocities. The food is spoiled and poisonous, and the drinking water is contaminated, so there is an outbreak of typhoid. Our cabin collapsed last night in a typhoon, but don't worry. Only one guy got killed.
It's not all bad. I do have one friend, named Mike. He's the one who pulled me out of the quicksand. I have to haul garbage every day, but there aren't too many wild animals at the dump, and I've only been bitten twice.
Mr. Warden, the director, is very nice, and he has a real social conscience. He hires only desperate criminals as counselors. Our bunk counsellor, whose name is Chip, is a reformed axe murderer on parole. He has red eyes and yells a lot and keeps an axe under his mattress.
Tonight is really going to be fun. Our cabin hasn't been fixed yet, so we get to sleep in trees. I sure hope the typhoon doesn't start up again. I'll be safe and sound as long as Algonkian Island doesn't sink and further.
PS. If this letter looks messy, it's because I'm writing it while being chased by a bear.
Bruno and Boots
The Friends: Bruno Walton (the Ringleader) and Mevlin "Boots" O'Neal (the Straight Man)
The Plan: To room together (This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall), to earn $25,000 to buy a pool for Macdonald Hall (Go Jump in the Pool), to become football champions (The Zuccini Warriors), and many more
Korman's most popular early books are his series about the adventures of Bruno and Boots, two friends with a knack for getting in trouble at their Canadian boys' boarding school, Macdonald Hall. Along with the fun and appealing protagonists, the Macdonald Hall series has an exceptional cast of eccentric yet lovable secondary characters, from the strict but fair headmaster, Mr. Sturgeon and his grandmotherly wife, to the accident prone Sidney Rampulsky, the nerdy Elmer Drimsdale, and Miss Scrimmage, the devoted but somewhat deranged headmistress of Miss Scrimmage's Academy for Young Ladies, across the road.
Speaking of secondary characters, although you might not have guessed from the IWtGH! excerpt above, one of the things I like about Korman's books is their fairness to all their characters. There are rarely pressing moral questions, it's true, but the books nevertheless manage to treat all their characters like human beings. There are no villains, and nor is anyone put on a pedestal. Korman allows both his protagonists and antagonists to be right sometimes, wrong others, and sometimes wrong for the right reasons, or right for the wrong ones. Both adult and teenage characters are capable of great competence and total cluelessness, sometimes within pages, just like real human beings, and though many of the characters start out rather stereotypical and may remain defined primarily by just one or two character traits, they are also given individual desires and chances for character growth, even those whose primary function is comic relief.
Miss Scrimmage, for example, may be a little crazy and clueless, but she plainly loves her school and her girls and will do anything for them. In IWtGH!, Chip may rant and rage over Rudy and Mike's antics, and thwart their escape attempts at every turn, but he, too, really loves his job and wants to do it well. Though both characters are the frequent butt of jokes, they are also granted the respect and love their finer qualities deserve, both by the author and their fellow characters.
The Twinkie Squad
The Friends: Douglas Fairchild (the Ringleader) and Armando "Commando" Rivera (the Straight Man)
The Plan: To get out of the "Special Discussion Group" and back on the basketball team, preferably without getting expelled (Commando); To uphold the ideals and values of the immortal Ano Pefki (Doug)
The Twinkie Squad is one of the funniest of Korman's later books, and unlike many of his other novels, it is set in the United States. In Washington, DC, to be precise, where Commando is a 12 year old political junkie, and Doug is the son of a high ranking US ambassador. After an incident at school, both boys become entangled in the "Special Discussion Group" for students having trouble adjusting to middle school, or, as Commando more colorfully puts it, "bedwetters and people who think they're trees," and the wacky hijinks start faster than you can cook Pefkakian Garlic Squid with Mango and Banana.
Korman's Later Novels
Korman has continued to be a prolific author for children and young adults and has tackled more serious subjects in some of his recent novels. He has written several popular adventure series as well.
To learn more, you can visit his official website.
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