The Unteachables rounds up a class full of misfits and molds them into a prize-winning team.
The Unteachables by Gordon Korman. Balzer + Bray (HarperColins), 2019, 279 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: Ages 10-15
When Kiana walks into her 8th-grade homeroom on her first day at Greenwich Middle School, the students are roasting marshmallows stuck on pencils over a trash-can fire. Then a (supposedly) responsible adult enters, carrying a coffee mug the size of a toilet bowl. His first act is to calmly pour the contents over the fire. “Good morning. I’m your teacher, Mr. Kermit.” Fortunately, Kiana doesn’t plan to be around long. This is only a temporary stay with her dad and stepmom until her mother wraps up an on-location movie and Kiana can return to her true home in California. This isn’t even her class. A mix-up during registration shuttled her into this collection of misfits and ne’er-do-wells known colloquially as The Unteachables. And though the class doesn’t know it yet, the situation is also temporary for Mr. K—a burned-out teacher counting down the days to early retirement. Both Mr. K and Kiana are okay with parking here while time runs out, but there’s a lot more to the class than either of them knows.
Gordon Korman is a master at communicating serious themes with quirky humor. The novel is dedicated to “all the teachers who soldier on” in spite of screwed-up schedules, pompous administrators, and bureaucratic nonsense. The focus on an adult is unusual in MG fiction, but the kids get their due as well: dyslexic Parker, disgruntled Barnstorm (the injured jock who’s out for the season), angry Aldo, etc. It’s a familiar story on page and screen: a group of rejects learn to care for each other and work as a team, and a dejected coach or mentor gets his mojo back. But getting there is all the fun, with some fist pumps along the way.
- There’s one “my God,” 2-3 “Jeez Louise” (does anybody actually say that?)
- Kiana refers to her stepmother as “stepmonster,” but fortunately comes to think better of her.
Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
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