Now out from a new imprint of HarperCollins, Ungifted is a new young adult title about a young struggling student troublemaker who is accidentally transferred to a school for highly-gifted genius-level students. To say he doesn't fit in would be a severe understatement. But while Donovan Curtis in no way belongs, he does find things he can contribute.
How long will it take for the school to realise he doesn't belong? How much trouble will he get in as they figure it out? And how many lives will he change in the process? Hard questions to answer without reading the book. Thankfully, it is a fun read, so discovering these answers will be a joy.
From the Book:
I want a refund from ancestry.com.
They traced my family all the way back to the revolution. And in all those forefathers and foremothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there was nobody like me. No bigmouth hung for treason; no “classe clowne” who they stuck in the stocks and threw rotten vegetables at. The closest match was this guy in the Civil War who jumped off a battlement, whatever that is. And he only did it because the Union army was firing on Fort Sumter. That’s what they put on his tombstone, anyway. It sounds like a pretty good excuse to me.
I did things like that. If there were any battlements in my neighborhood, I’d probably jump off them all. And not because of any army. I’d do it just to see what would happen. Reckless, my mother called me. “Poor impulse control.” That’s the school psychologist. “You’re going to break your idiot neck one day, or someone’s going to break it for you.” My dad.
He was probably right. They were all right. But when the thing is right there in front of me, and I can kick it, grab it, shout it out, jump into it, paint it, launch it, or light it on fire, it’s like I’m a puppet on a string, powerless to resist. I don’t think; I do.
It can be little things, like throwing darts at a pool float to test my sister’s swimming skills, or spitting back at the llamas at the zoo. It can be more creative – a helium balloon, a fishhook, and Uncle Mark’s toupee. It can even be the smart-alecky comments that got me voted Most Likely to Wind Up in Jail in my middle school the last two years running.
“Our fans are great; our team is nifty. We’re going to get blown out by fifty.”
See, that was probably not the wisest thing to say on the day of the big game against our basketball arch-rivals, Salem Junior High. But I didn’t just say it; I broadcast it over the PA system to the entire school. I don’t know why I did it. The rhyme was already fully-formed – the poster advertising the big game had planted it there. It was definitely going to come out. Why share it with only the two Daniels, who were with me in the office awaiting sentence for our spitball war, when there was a perfectly good microphone a few feet away, unattended and live. Okay, it wasn’t live. I had to flick the switch.
The howl of protest that went up all around the building surprised even me. It was like I’d gone from house to house, poisoning everybody’s dog. It was probably for my own good that I wound up in detention. If I’d been free in the halls at three-thirty, I would have been lynched. The sense of humor at Hardcastle Middle School didn’t extend to their precious basketball team.
“Why’d you say we’re going to lose, man?” asked Whelan Kaiser, starting center, peering down at the top of my head from his six-foot-four vantage.
Why? There was no logical explanation for what I did. It had to come from my DNA. That’s why I needed ancestry.com.
I was the only kid in detention that afternoon. All crimes had been forgiven in order to pad the audience for the big game against Salem, which had to have already started. All crimes except mine – dissing the basketball team. Even the Daniels – two-thirds of the spitball war – had been cut loose while I was doing time.
The Daniels weren’t at the game. I knew this because they were skulking in the bushes outside the detention room, making grotesque faces at me through the window. If they could make me laugh – and it wasn’t easy to hold back – I’d be in even more trouble. As it was, Mr. Fender was checking his watch every thirty seconds. He wanted to be at the game, not babysitting me.
Finally, he could bear it no longer. “I’ll be right back,” he told me sternly.
The instant he was gone, the window was flung open from the outside.
“Come on!” hissed Daniel Sanderson. “Let’s get out of here!”
“He’s coming back,” I protested.
“No, he’s not,” scoffed the other Daniel – Daniel Nussbaum. “He’s going to the office to watch the feed from the security camera in the gym. You’ve only got ten more minutes. If he’s any kind of basketball fan, you’re golden.”
I was out the window like a shot, breathing sweet free air. See what I’m saying? The open road called, and I took it. This time I’d needed a little help. That’s where the Daniels came in. They helped me a lot. They’d helped me to the office with our spitball fight, and helped me to the PA mike by daring me to do it. With friends like them, sometimes I wondered why I would ever need enemies.
I turned on them. “Thanks for letting me take the fall alone. Your support was really touching.”
Nussbaum shrugged innocently. “I couldn’t take credit for your poem.”
“It wasn’t a poem. It just happened to rhyme.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” Sanderson put in. “Don’t you think that’s kind of dorky? I mean, who rhymes anymore?”
“Nobody,” I conceded, “except the entire hip hop and rap community.” I bounced a pine cone off his head, which only made him grin wider.
We were at the top of the hill, looking down on the gym we shared with Hardcastle High. The parking lot was jam-packed. A roaring cheer spilled out of the building.
“Man, you couldn’t fit a Hot Wheels car in there!” Nussbaum exclaimed, taking in the crowded lot. “Salem versus Hardcastle is the place to be.”
“Let’s go check out the score,” said Sanderson. He tried to quote me. “Our nifty team will lose by fifty points.”
“Yeah, Donovan, nice school spirit,” Nussbaum added. Like he had school spirit.
We started down, the Daniels jostling each other absently. A kind of friendly belligerence came naturally to those two. Maybe they were descended from the Hatfields and the McCoys. I’ll bet the Daniels never checked it out on ancestry.com.
And then The Moment was upon me.
I must have passed the statue of Atlas a thousand times going back and forth on the campus of the Hardcastle Public Schools. Yet somehow it was like I’d never seen it before.
It was not the titan’s broad powerful shoulders supporting the bronze globe of the world that seemed so different. But since when did Atlas have such a big butt? Seriously, I knew he was a titan; but I didn’t know that the most titanic thing about him was his caboose. He looked like a reject from The Biggest Loser.
Suddenly, I was striding towards the statue, in an almost trance-like state. I picked up a fallen tree branch and made my approach.
Nussbaum noticed my zombie-like concentration. “Dude, what are you doing?”
I didn’t answer, and he didn’t really expect me to. He knew me. They both did.
I cocked back the branch, and unloaded a home run swing. The impact vibrated up through my arms to my brain stem, and into every cell of my body. The branch shattered in my hands.
I have to say that this was always the best part of it for a guy like me – the split second the tomato hits the car; the very brief flight as I drop from the edge of the roof to the pool; the instant that the balloon lifts the toupee and the sun’s rays glint off that shiny bald head.
Or, in this case, the go-o-o-ong sound from the statue’s bronze behind. The payoff. It was usually downhill from there. Sometimes literally.
Atlas shivered as the vibration traveled through his metal body. The world shivered too, rocking dizzily on his muscular shoulders. At that point, I noticed for the first time that the sculpture wasn’t a single piece of metal, but two, bolted together at the nape of the titan’s neck.
Corrosion is a terrible thing. It was all in slow-motion, but there was nothing you could do to stop it. With a crack, the bolt snapped, pieces whizzing out of sight. The ball of the world toppled and hit the ground with a whump.
I was still wrapped up in the deed, lost in The Moment. It took the twin gasps from the Daniels to break the trance. And by that time, the heavy ball was already rolling.
Oh, no …
The big bronze globe careened down the hill towards the gym, picking up speed as it went. I ran after it, although what I thought I could do to stop it, I have no idea.
“Help me!” I called to the Daniels. But they were heading in the opposite direction. They liked to watch me do stuff; they had a lot less interest in hanging around for the consequences.
Heart sinking, I projected the course of the runaway planet. The prognosis was not good. It was hurtling straight for the parking lot, where a lot of innocent cars were waiting to get bashed in. Desperately, I threw myself head-first at the juggernaut. When my shoulder struck the heavy metal, it felt like running into a brick wall. If it changed the direction at all, it was about a millionth of an inch. Flat on my face now, all I could do was watch.
The world screamed down toward all that expensive machinery, bounced off an upturned curbstone, and caromed towards the building. The cars were safe, but the planet was now on a collision course with the basketball game.
It pulverized the glass doors, sending up a cloud that obscured the entrance. I heard a very sharp whistle blast, like the referee was calling a foul on Atlas, or possibly me.
There was another relative on ancestry.com. He wasn’t very much like me. I don’t think I would have remembered him at all, except for his name – James Donovan. I’d wondered if I was named after him, although my mother claimed she’d never heard of the guy. He emigrated from Ireland in 1912, which would have been fine except that the ship he picked was the Titanic.
As decision-makers, he and I were pretty much on the same level.
But here’s the thing: He didn’t die. He was plucked from the freezing water alive.
James Donovan was a survivor.
If I’d inherited any of those skills, I had a sinking feeling they were about to come in handy.
To be the superintendent of a school district like Hardcastle, with its forty-seven buildings and more than thirty thousand students, was a huge responsibility. A lot of administrators would have hundreds of complicated rules to follow. I only had one: No Screw-ups.
So when I took time out of my busy schedule and burdensome duties to attend a middle school basketball game, I expected to see orderly students, good sportsmanship, and happy alumni. What I did not expect to see was a giant metal ball blasting into the gymnasium, scattering players like tenpins. Not only did it create a dangerous situation; it reflected very badly on the Hardcastle schools.
Miraculously, no one was injured. But there was a lot of chaos as the parents of the players rushed to their sons on the floor in an effort to protect them from whatever this onslaught was.
I knew instantly. That globe was part of the statue of Atlas that stood on the knoll overlooking the school. And it certainly hadn’t rolled itself down to the gym. I raced through the shattered door and onto the lawn. I could see the path of crushed grass all the way back to the figure of Atlas, who looked peculiar, bent under the weight of absolutely nothing.
The culprit lay in the flattened track, raised up on his elbows, staring at the damage, guilty. “You, there!” I called sternly.
The boy tried to scramble up and run, but he couldn’t get any traction on the squashed turf. By the time he found his feet, I was upon him, and he was caught.
“Come with me to my office.”
His shoulders slumped. “Yeah, okay.” He looked as worried as he ought to be. I drew some small satisfaction from that.
The Administration building was on the very same campus, but the boy didn’t speak on the way over, not even to protest his innocence. A fat lot of good that would have done him. I had him dead to rights. And the evidence – a four-hundred-pound bronze sphere, and the damage it had caused – spoke plainly about what he had done.
At last, we reached my office, and I glared at him across my desk. “Do you know who I am?”
He shook his head, and had the grace to look a little scared.
“I am Dr. Schultz, Superintendent of the Hardcastle Independent School District. And I’ll have your name and your school’s name right now.”
“Donovan Curtis. I go here – I mean Hardcastle Middle, where, uh, it happened.”
I wrote the information on a piece of paper on the cluttered desk in front of me. “Well, Donovan Curtis, I don’t have to tell you that you’re in big trouble right now. You’re lucky that no one was hurt or even killed by that stunt of yours. Why would you do such a thing?”
“It was an accident.”
If he thought he could get away with an excuse like that, he had picked the wrong administrator. “A giant metal ball doesn’t plow through a building by accident.”
He spoke up again. “I hit the statue with a branch, but I didn’t think the world would fall off.”
“You didn’t think –”
My secretary, Mrs. De Bourbon, came bustling in, looking worried. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, Dr. Schultz, but you’re needed urgently back at the gym. Someone called the fire department from a cell phone, and you’re the only one with the authority to send them away.” She frowned. “Nothing’s on fire, is it?”
“No, of course not.” I was halfway to the door when I hesitated. What to do with the boy? He was looking hopeful, like he was home free. But believe me, he wasn’t. It would serve him right if I left him sitting here, cooling his heels, while I went out to deal with the mess he’d made! But who knew how long that would take? By now those firefighters could be finding code violations in the gym! And I had a dinner meeting across town…
I skewered him with my most severe expression. “You can go. I’ll send for you tomorrow morning, and we can continue this discussion.”
He was out of there like a shot. I wasn’t far behind him when Mrs. De Bourbon called me back.
“I’m sorry to bother you again, but Student Services needs the list of the new candidates for the gifted program.”
I sighed. Did everything have to pass through me? I was only one person! “It’s on my desk, Cynthia. You can’t miss it.”
What a nightmare! There was damage to the gym floor in addition to the doors, which were a total loss. The foundry that had made the statue had gone out of business five years ago, so good luck getting a replacement world for Atlas. The district’s insurance agent was on vacation for the next two weeks.
I missed my dinner meeting and my dinner. By the time I got back to my office, I was almost insane with aggravation. This was exactly why I couldn’t tolerate screw-ups. There was no such thing as just one. The first led to the second, and pretty soon they were coming at you in battalions. I needed to accomplish one real thing on this miserable day, and I knew exactly what it was going to be: I was going to call that boy’s parents and let them know the damage and chaos their son’s vandalism had caused.
I scanned my desk for the paper where I’d written his name. It was gone.
I scoured every item on that desk, and not just once. Nothing.
But she had already left for the day.
How could this be? That boy must have snuck back in and stolen the paper, hoping I’d forget his name among the thirty thousand students I’m responsible for! Well, he was wrong about that! His name was – his name was –
Sudden overpowering chagrin.
I had broken my only rule.
Copyright © 2012 by Gordon Korman, used by permission