Pros: Terrifically developed characters, a strong message about tolerance
Cons: My daughter would freak out if she read it right now
Well this is a first. I am willfully, unrepentantly withholding a book from my child. Not just hiding it, but actively telling her she may not read it. Fortunately she has a short attention span at the moment, but I wouldn't give in no matter how much wheedling took place. This is probably the only time such a thing will ever occur and rest assured, I have very good reason for banning Schooled (from my child).
Schooled is the story of Capricorn Anderson. Cap was raised by his "grandmother" on the remnants of what was probably termed a commune back in the day. Now it's just Cap and Rain. They live off the land and have as little contact with the outside world as possible. Rain has been around for a long time and taught Cap much about peaceful living, anti-consumerism and a whole host of ideals that work well on the ranch. She has also home schooled him and as a result he knows nothing at all about the "real world". When Rain takes a bad fall and must remain in the hospital for rehabilitation, Cap is placed in a foster home and thrust into public middle school. He becomes a target from the moment he steps foot on school grounds. The story follows what becomes of Cap and his tormenters as the year progresses.
Schooled reminds me quite a bit of Stranger in a Strange Land for tweens and early teens, with themes of inclusion, exclusion and societal ills illuminated by an innocent. Cap is not only new to school; he's completely clueless about the "rules" of his peers or society in general. The bullies and popular kids who rule the school with iron fists aren't entirely sure what to make of him, but they most definitely know that he has no place among them and do everything in their power to make sure he's as miserable as possible. But being clueless has its advantages - what you don't know sometimes can'thurt you and Cap is as oblivious to his tormenters as he is to virtually everything else. He struggles mightily, but not because of what is done to him. He struggles with the conflicts between this environment and that in which he was raised, trying desperately to cling to his upbringing while at the same time finding himself pulled into the culture in which he is now immersed. It's a lot for a teenager to absorb, but Cap is a pretty special teenager.
Author Gordon Korman takes a chance with the narration in Schooled. Each chapter is narrated in the first person by a different character. Many have more than one chapter, but no two are consecutively done by the same person. This can be hard for younger readers and my fifth grade teacher friend (who also lent me the book) says that most elementary aged kids will need some help getting through the first few chapters and becoming accustomed to the POV changes. I totally agree. It's a rather adult style, but one which serves the story beautifully and it's well worth the time to get a younger child into the story. Knowing how naïve Cap is through his own eyes, or how conflicted are some of his tormenters, or even how annoyed is his foster sister truly benefits the narrative and gives the characters a depth that is unusual for a book aimed at a young audience. Not one of these characters is all good, or all evil. The children are far more developed than the few adults, and that's perfect. I love Cap, with his beautiful serenity and complete lack of pretense. He's a perfect lens through which to view the inevitable ups and downs of early adolescence and the various characters that unfailingly turn up in the lives of most children.
So what's my problem? I loved the book, so why can't mininocket read it? One reason - it will scare her to death. She's going to be starting middle school in less than a week and is already nervous, and has been all summer. Schooled paints middle school with a broad brush with lots of time spent focused on how vicious a place it can be. It's an exaggeration done for clear illustration of the themes presented. It's very effective, unless you're a child who is about to enter middle school and already fearful of academic and social change. Very simply, she can't handle this book right now - no amount of discussion or reassurance will change that. Once she gets settled into her new school she will be able to see the broad generalizations and not freak out thinking that she's walking into a nightmare. At that point, I think she will truly appreciate what Cap goes through and how he handles himself in a difficult situation. Until then, she simply won't be able to see the forest for the trees. Parents need to read Schooled before their child and decide when the timing is right for this book. You know your child, you'll know if their circumstances and personality make them the right audience. Fifth graders not yet nervous about middle school or older kids who have adjusted to their new environment are perfect target ages - those in between should be handled with care. Schooled is a great book, told in a rather adult style that lends depth and believability to the characters, but my daughter will be waiting until she's a little less anxious about the world rather savagely portrayed within its pages.
**I have never banned or withheld a book from my children before and can't imagine that I ever will again. This book will soon lose its banned status and be back in circulation in the house. I firmly believe that the only book banning that should ever take place is within one home - I know my kids and what they can handle and it's my job to make that decision. I would be outraged if someone else ever attempted to make that decision for me. I am outraged that others try and make that decision all the time by trying to make books unavailable in libraries across the country. I am outraged that other of Gordon Korman's books have been challenged and withheld from all students by those seeking to impose their "values" on others. I will decide what is appropriate for my children. No one else has either the right or the responsibility.**
This is a rather unconventional entry into pestyside's Banned Book Week write off. I will, of course, be reading and reviewing a banned book as well, but this unusual set of circumstances cried out for inclusion in this event.