________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 35. . . .May 13, 2016



Gordon Korman.
New York, NY: Scholastic (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2016.
230 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-82315-9.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

**** /4



So there I was, standing in front of everybody, with less than nothing to say and my sister in the back, taking notes. If I could do with myself what Pavel could do with websites, where he redirected people to other countries, I would have been in Iceland in a heartbeat.

The guidance counselor got sick of my dead silence and announced, “Why don’t you tell us a little about what we have to look forward to in the Positive Action Group.”

“Well, it’s about helping, mostly...” I began, and then trailed off.


“And assisting,” I went on. I knew how stupid I sounded, but I was really cornered. “Aiding…you know, pitching in…”


At last, my eyes fell on Daphne. She was leaning so far forward in her seat that she looked like she was about to tumble down the risers and land on her head. But seeing her there gave me my first flash of inspiration—a way to change the subject from the fact that I was laying a total egg at my own meeting.

“And most important of all,” I blurted, “we’ve got to find a way to save that poor beaver out there!”


Eighth-grader Cameron Boxer prides himself on being a slacker—doing the least he can do to get by, coming in under the radar at school, spending every spare minute doing nothing but playing video games. After his house almost burns down due to his inattention, his parents give him an ultimatum: get involved in something, or quit gaming. So Cameron and his friends invent a fake service club, the Positive Action Group, by hacking their school’s website. His parents convinced, Cameron’s continued slacker-ism is undermined by an eager guidance counselor and an activist fellow student who hype the P.A.G. until it literally dominates charitable actions in their town, leading to sabotage attempts by a rival high-school club. The school forces the P.A.G. to shut down, but Cam revives it for one last shot—saving the town by preventing its lone freeway exit from being demolished.

     Like vintage Korman, this book takes a ridiculous-sounding premise and spins it into a believable, fast-moving, inspiring tour-de-farce, alternately hilarious and poignant, with characters that scream out for your sympathy. Cam is larger than life, a lovable lout; his younger sister Melody perceptive and whip-smart; activist Daphne determined and smarter-than-thou; guidance counselor Mr. Fanshaw earnest and occasionally pitiable. Even the school principal, forced to shut down the P.A.G. after a huge confrontation with the rival group, is, understandable, a victim of politics and liability concerns. Elvis, the orphan beaver that Daphne initially wants as the P.A.G. focus, becomes a symbol, a talisman both of the complications of charitable action and of the ridiculous premise at the base of the story.

     And what a story it is—Cam, the most reluctant of reluctant heroes, carried cheering on the shoulders of an inspired action group that he can’t control anymore, no one wise to his deception but his gaming friends and his sister, saving an injured senior in her home while he ducks out from P.A.G. service to check his game on his phone. It seems to turn on the most entertaining and sharp of points—the school bully, so happy at having a purpose that he secretly gives Cam a gift he’s made in craft class; Cam’s gaming friends (and even him) finding that games aren’t as thrilling as real life; Melody turning out to be Cam’s biggest online gaming rival; the high-school cheerleader who terrorizes Cam so she can keep her do-gooder image alive for her college application; and finally, Cam’s turnaround, when he realizes for a moment the power he has when the town is faced with a crisis. Their downtown dying, his parents’ furniture store losing business, the P.A.G. blocks the demolition of their freeway exit and earns a reprieve from the government.

     But Slacker is still a story for kids, and it neither condemns Cam’s lifestyle nor elevates him to sainthood. In the end, he’s still Cam, competing at a video game tournament, profoundly changed, but still a kid with his own stubborn passion. Slacker hits every mark.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and President of the Ontario Library Association.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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