First up is Ungifted by Gordon Korman. Korman is a prolific writer whose books my sons have enjoyed in the past. I hadn't read any of his novels except the volumes that he wrote for the 39 Clues series, which I enjoyed.
Donovan Curtis is an 8th grader with some, um, behavioral issues. He's not a bad kid, but he has a serious lack of impulse control. In one of his "I wonder what would happen if I..." moments, egged on by his friends, the Two Daniels, he causes a rather major incident at his school, and, sadly, more or less right in front of the superintendent of the district. He is hauled into the office, but Dr. Schulz has to go deal with the aftermath of the incident, and accidentally jots down Donovan's name onto a list of kids who'd passed a test to attend the town's Academy of Scholastic Distinction.
Donovan realizes, eventually, what has happened, and knows that Dr. Schulz hasn't been able to find him again - so ASD is the perfect place to hide out, right? :)
He realizes pretty quickly that he's in way far over his head at ASD, and he doesn't have the greatest opinion of the "nerds" who inhabit the school. And, of course, they have pretty much no use for him. Except...
I don't want to spoil it, so we'll leave it there. Throw in Donovan's hugely pregnant sister, her soldier husband's dying dog, and Tin Man the robot, and you've got a really funny book.
Tin Man's area of expertise
The book is told from nearly every character's point of view, chapter by chapter. The chapter headings let you know who's talking, and while I sometimes find this device choppy, Korman did a really nice job with it. I thought he did a superior job of describing Donnie's impulses - as a substitute teacher, it made me think a bit more about those kids whom I sometimes wonder about. ;) The story is funny and entertaining, but also does a really nice job examining the true meaning of friendship, as well as maybe making you wonder what the word "gifted" should really mean.
I highly recommend this one!
Rated: PG, grades 5 and up. No language or romance issues, but the kids are, after all, in 8th grade and the situations and overall theme of the book might not relate well to a younger crowd. However, the vocab and such are not too hard for the younger middle school ages, and was a pretty quick read for both my son and I.