What I’m Reading: Re-Start
Re-Start, by Gordon Korman, is the second book by this author I’ve reviewed on this site. The first, Ungifted, I gave a fairly positive review to here. I like the author fine, but I’m not trying to follow him or anything–this is one of the books my son is reading for his Battle of the Books at school, and he, my daughter, and my wife have all read it and said I would enjoy it. And they’re right!
In both books, a troublemaking middle schooler finds himself with an unexpected second chance to do things differently, and tries to take advantage of it. Seems to be a Korman theme! In this case the troublemaker is Chase Ambrose, who has just awoken from a coma a few days before his eighth-grade year starts. Chase fell off the roof of his house and conked his head, and now has complete amnesia concerning everything that occurred before the fall. He doesn’t even remember his own mother.
As the days go on, Chase learns that he was pretty much a jerk before. He and his best buddies, Bear and Aaron, were the stars on the middle school football team, which they led to its first state championship in 25 years. They had the run of the school, and took advantage of that to bully nerds and dweebs as much as they liked, and they liked to do it a lot. They even bullied Joel Weber so mercilessly that Joel had to enroll at a private school in another state.
Chase is horrified at the person he used to be, and at the barbaric behavior of Bear and Aaron. Because the doctor said he couldn’t play football the rest of the year, he joins the video club and really enjoys it. The geeky members are terrified of him at first, but soon realize he’s genuinely changed. What’s more, he’s really good at camerawork, and within a few weeks has become a valued member of the club. He also joins Shoshanna Weber, Joel’s twin sister, on her visits to a local senior citizens’ center so they can interview a Korean War vet for a video project she’s putting together. (But what would Joel think if he knew the kid who’d bullied him out of school was now hanging out with his sister?)
The football team, however, is really struggling without their star player. Bear and Aaron hatch an evil plan to spoil Chase’s newfound friendship with the nerds and remind him of who he really is. Soon Chase will have to make a decision about who his real friends are–only he doesn’t remember enough about his previous life to be fully informed about the possible ramifications if he chooses the nerds over the jocks.
This was a great book–tons of humor and a meaningful story. The characters are really well-drawn. Even Bear and Aaron, the villains, are well-rounded, and bad as they are, you can see the attractive qualities in them that led Chase to be their buddy. I did find the ending a little pat–in particular, Chase’s dad, who had seemed to tie his love to his son to Chase’s performance on the football team, has a real change of heart at the end that comes out of nowhere..
Another strange thing I noticed in the book is that I think it was originally aimed at an older, high school-aged audience. For instance, Chase’s dad is proud of his son, the star football player, because he himself was on the last middle school team to go the state championship decades before, and he looks back on that period as the best time of his life. Plus, all the townspeople know who Chase and his friends are because of the football team, which is why they’re able to get away with so much. But this doesn’t seem right–it’s high school football that is the most important thing in so many small towns, and it seems silly for Chase’s dad to look back on middle school as the best time of his life. Moreover, Shoshanna wants her video project to win the National Video Journalism Award. This sounds a lot more like something a college application-building high schooler would be interested in than a middle schooler.
That doesn’t make anything wrong with the book. I suspect Gordon Korman originally wrote it as a YA, not a middle grade book, and decided to change it. Or maybe the publisher asked him to, since he’s known as a middle grade author. Regardless, it’s more of an oddity than anything else. The book is still well-written, hilarious, and sometimes touching, and despite it’s slightly overly sentimental ending, I would recommend it to any middle schooler, and any adults that might be interested, too.