CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007
Was hippie hair and clothing really as bad as Gordon Korman describes it in Schooled, his latest novel? He exaggerates, but the answer is probably yes. This reviewer remembers being very, very proud of a pantsuit, homemade, bright green with purple, blue, pink, yellow and red flowers all over it. That's the jacket and the pants. That's a lot of flower power. In the 60s, most of us were just bursting with floral abundance and the desire to make the world a better place. A few people dropped out and tried to build egalitarian communities. The essential ingredients to make these communal groups succeed were a strong commitment on the part of the individuals who formed it, the ability to reach consensus, and the ability to change with the times. Some did succeed (I know of one established more than 30 years ago, still vibrant and prosperous), but most of these social experiments were abandoned. All that is left of them are some fond (and some strange) memories. Garland is the community where Cap (short for Capricorn) Anderson grew up, mothered and educated by Rain, his grandmother and original member of this alternative society. The bloom of Garland's promise faded long ago for everyone else, including Cap's parents. Rain and Cap are nearly self-sufficient, venturing into the hostile real world only when necessary. Not having been exposed to television, cell phones, commerce or current cultural trends, Cap is unprepared for what happens next. Rachel Esther Rosenblatt breaks her hip, and that's where Korman begins his fish-out-of-water story. Rain is Rachel, and when she is sidelined in the hospital, 13-year-old Cap must go live with a foster parent and attend school for the first time. Luckily for him, his social worker was the child of former hippies from Garland, and she takes Cap in. She knows how difficult the culture shock will be, having experienced it herself. Cap speaks English, but he doesn't understand the lingo of the kids at Claverage (or C Average) Middle School. He also doesn't get their attitudes or the tricks they play on him. The school bully, Zach Powers, senses an opportunity to do his worst. He organizes his lackeys to dump garbage in Cap's locker, kick him in the hallway and throw food and spitballs at him in the cafeteria. When Cap doesn't break down according to plan, all the other characters react in different ways. They all change for the better, even though some of them do unfriendly things along the way. The irony is that the sheltered, 'uneducated' Cap teaches the savvy sophisticates. Cap changes, too, but keeps his moral compass. He realizes that, although he is fiercely loyal to Rain, there is more to the world than picking plums at Garland.
Korman juxtaposes the world of the ideologically-driven commune with the crass materialism and selfishness of today, creating some humorous moments in Cap's educational process. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, providing insight into the personalities and the issues each faces, and a variety of perspectives on how Cap is adapting to modern times.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.