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Cover image for Masterminds



First edition.
New York, NY : Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2015]
Physical Description:
323 pages ; 22 cm
Series title(s):
Number in series:
bk. 1.
"A group of kids discovers they were cloned from the DNA of some of the greatest criminal masterminds in history for a sociological experiment"-- Provided by publisher.
Reading Level:
Ages 8-12.


Call Number
TEEN Korman, G.
TEEN Korman, G.
JUV FIC KORMAN Masterminds #1 BOB 2017

On Order



The first book in the action-packed trilogy from New York Times bestselling author Gordon Korman is perfect for fans of Stranger Things and James Patterson.

Eli Frieden has never left Serenity, New Mexico...why would he ever want to? Then one day, he bikes to the edge of the city limits and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything.

Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, connecting their ideal crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known.

The kids realize they can trust no one--least of all their own parents.

Author Notes

Gordon Korman was born in Montreal, Canada on October 23, 1963. When his 7th-grade English teacher told the class they could have 45 minutes a day for four months to work on a story of their choice, Korman began This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall. He was also the class monitor for the Scholastic TAB Book Club, so he sent his novel to the address on the TAB flyer, and a few days after his 14th birthday, he had a book contract with Scholastic.

By the time he graduated from high school, he had published five other novels and several articles for Canadian newspapers. He received a BFA degree from New York University with a major in Dramatic Writing and a minor in Film and TV. He has written over 75 books for children and young adults including the Swindle series, The Juvie Three, and two books of poetry written by the fictional character Jeremy Bloom.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-Serenity, New Mexico is an idyllic community for all its inhabitants. Everyone has everything they need and no one lies. As the local newspaper boasts, "Serenity Voted #1 in USA for standard of living." Eli has always been happy with his life and never had any reason to want to leave. One day though, while on a bike ride past the outskirts of town with his best friend Randy, Eli begins to feel sick. When he recovers from his illness he discovers that Randy, who convinced him to ride out, has to leave town. Randy tells everyone that he is going to his grandparents' house, but he is acting strange and no longer wants to hang out with Eli. After Randy leaves, Eli finds a note that makes him realize this may not be the perfect town after all. Eli and a few friends begin to uncover secrets and discover that honesty may not be at the heart of Serenity. They also realize that they can't trust anyone, especially not their parents. Korman has created a fun and creative story that delves into the philosophy of what makes us human and whether or not we are defined by our circumstances. Told in alternating voices, readers will get insight into life in Serenity and make life-changing discoveries with the characters. This unique and action-packed story is filled with twists and turns that readers will not see coming. A wonderful start to what promises to be a thrilling series.-Kristyn Dorfman, The Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Several teens learn that their idyllic small-town existence is a sham in this first entry in Korman's Masterminds series. Serenity, N.Mex., has the best standard of living in the country, with zero unemployment and total peace and prosperity. Thirteen-year-old Eli and his friends have never known anywhere else. Honesty, harmony, and contentment aren't just valued in Serenity, they're a way of life. Then Eli and the others start to notice odd things: when they try to leave town, they get sick; their Internet is remarkably sanitized compared to outside sites they accidentally come across; and some kids are considered special, while others are less so. After they discover the truth about why Serenity is so peaceful, they must face the fact that their lives have been ruled by a gigantic lie. Rotating among several young narrators, Korman builds tension as the mystery unfolds, leading to several surprise twists that upend the status quo. While an awful lot of dumb luck is involved in the kids' discoveries, this tense, fast-paced story will have readers racing toward the cliffhanger ending. Ages 8-12. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Eli lives contentedly in seemingly idyllic Serenity, New Mexico, until he tries to venture beyond the town limits. Slowly, Eli and friends realize that the town is fake, their lives are not their own, and they must escape to survive. A clever combination of The Giver and The Truman Show, this book is an engaging and compelling start to a new series. (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

With no unemployment, no homelessness and no crime, Serenity, New Mexico, is the perfect town. Or is it?When 13-year-old Eli Frieden attempts to bike past the town limits for the first time, he is struck with paralyzing nausea and pain that makes him wonder if Serenity is less of a paradise and more of a prison. When Malik Bruder, his classmate, discovers that the major employer, a traffic-cone factory, is just a front for something more sinister, the two boys, along with friends Hector Amani and Tori Pritel, decide to investigate. They find that Serenity, which holds honesty and integrity above all else, is built on a lie. The truth is so shocking that it puts into question everything they know, even their identities. The mystery is unraveled through several alternating first-person narratives. The distinctive voices of a cynic, a true believer, a hopeful optimist, a terrified tag-along and others create depth, while break-ins, theft, vandalism and an explosive car chase keep the pages turning. A cliffhanger ending points to at least one sequel. A fresh premise, good pacing, surprising twists and engaging characters all combine to make this a series worth following. (Adventure. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Tiny Serenity, New Mexico, is idyllic as it gets everyone has a job and a home, the kids are well behaved, and the genial community spirit is intoxicating. Sure, it's boring, and it's suspicious that a town of 185 people has its own helicopter-equipped security force, but 13-year-old Eli is content. That is, until his misbehaving friend Randy gets sent away. Eli's sure there's something screwy going on, and his suspicions are confirmed when he and his friends investigate the town's factory. Using their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, they discover that it's not traffic cones they manufacture there, but the truth. Korman cleverly constructs Serenity as a kind of stand-in for pearl-clutching attitudes about children the history lessons exclude rebellion and any antiauthoritarian notions, and the kids don't even know what murder means. But learning they have been lied to is worse, and in alternating first-person perspectives, they explore thought-provoking questions about honesty and struggle with the dastardly, life-altering secrets that may change who they are. The compelling, twisty mystery has a truly gratifying payoff, and the emotional depth of the characters, not to mention the steadily building pace, will keep readers engaged to the final page, which happily lays the groundwork for a sequel. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Korman is no stranger to the New York Times best-seller list, and with a hefty marketing campaign behind this one, don't be surprised if he pops up on the list again.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2014 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

WHAT HAPPENS DURING summer vacation has a lot to teach us about children and reading. Librarians and teachers are very aware of the "summer slide." This friendly-sounding phrase describes the loss of reading skills during the long break. After two months of not reading, a student experiences a gap in learning that, by the time she reaches middle school, might add up to a two-year lag in skills. We also know that children who choose reading as a leisure activity will do well on those dreaded tests of comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed. But how do you get them to want to read? One thing is hardly shocking: Children who choose their own reading material read. This means that required summer reading lists don't work to keep kids reading. What does work is taking them to the public library and signing up for summer reading programs. What does work is surrounding kids with all kinds of books - comics, how-to-make-paper-airplanes books, fantasy series - and letting them choose what they like. Nonetheless, there are always books that adults are well advised to put within the reach of children - subtly - in the hope that they'll be drawn in. The books under review here are all examples of the genre called "speculative fiction," and they are all first books in a series. They are also books I can picture a young reader choosing. In the end, though, it will be up to her. Trust her choices. AN EXCELLENT NEW SERIES asks for a commitment. As readers, we enter into an agreement with the author. We take the time to get to know the characters, the setting and premise. We understand that we might have to wait to continue this journey, but we also insist that this book be whole and stand on its own. Gordon Korman has a strong track record with middle-grade and young adult series, including several turns writing books in the best-selling "39 Clues" adventure series. He is the king of voice and setup, and he never fails to make me laugh out loud. His latest, "Masterminds," a high-stakes tale told from varying points of view, is set in the tiny planned community of Serenity, N.M. - a place of "honesty, harmony and contentment" where, supposedly, kids can grow up safe, carefree and happy. There is no crime, no unemployment, no poverty and no homelessness. The narrators are a cohort of 13-yearolds. Eli Frieden is the son of the principal of their small public school, who also happens to be the town's mayor. His dad, like all the parents in Serenity, constantly reminds him to be grateful to be growing up in this perfect environment, but Eli isn't quite sure. For one thing, he doesn't feel right about the fact that he's never once stepped foot outside Serenity. Amber Laska, however, has no problem being grateful. With her impressive mathematical abilities and unquestioning grace, she happily conducts her scheduled life of achieving outstanding test results while keeping up with piano and ballet lessons. Then there's Malik, the biggest kid in town. He's an outspoken malcontent, making fun of the town sayings, traditions and rules. He bullies Hector, the smallest of the group, who senses things are not quite as they seem on the surface and understands that Malik might have the right idea with his plan to leave town as soon as he's old enough. Korman slowly reveals details that suggest the utopian community is something else altogether, and Eli and his friends find themselves caught up in a conspiracy. Suffice it to say that what's really going on in Serenity involves the cloning of incarcerated criminals and a carefully orchestrated government plot. The teenagers, for their part, must grapple with their growing realization that there is almost no one they can trust, including their seemingly benign parents. Another middle-grade series off to a great start is "The Keepers: The Box and the Dragonfly," from the debut novelist Ted Sanders. Despite the familiar motifs - an outsider with untapped special talent, a gang of friends united against forces of evil - what we have here is a winding fantasy adventure that will appeal to readers of J.K. Rowling and Rick Riordan. Horace F. Andrews, age 12, is traveling on a crowded city bus when he spies a tall and narrow building sign with his name on it, in faded old-fashioned lettering, preceded by a list of words. The only ones he catches are "Artifacts. Miseries. Mysteries." Impulsively, Horace leaps out of the bus. "What possible reason," he wonders, "could any business have for putting 'Miseries' on its sign?" As Horace looks for the building, a strange, malodorous man blocks his path and sneers a cryptic pronouncement: "Watch where you roam, Tinker....Curiosity is a walk fraught with peril." The creepy stranger is not far wrong, as the building Horace enters turns out to be the House of Answers, a warehouse of wonders that would give Diagon Alley competition for the most fantastical architectural structure. The House of Answers contains an archive of curious bins with odd labels like FLAT and SUBTLE. The bins hold objects like scissors with sharp outer edges, a two-foot-long corkscrew and an ice cream scoop as big as a head. The most fascinating is a small box, its meaning and purpose shrouded in mystery. Horace is drawn to it and cannot let it out of his sight. A physical longing that he cannot explain compels him to keep the box close by. The proprietor, Mr. Meister, lets him have the box, warning him not to allow it into the sight of the dangerous stranger. Soon after, Horace meets Chloe, also 12, who received her own transformative item, a dragonfly pendant, at the tender age of 5. These objects, we learn, are instruments called Tanu that bond to their "Keepers." The device chooses the Keeper, who must find the object's powers on his or her own through experimentation and discovery. There were moments when I felt bogged down in the details of the series's setup. But those who stick with it will find a satisfying and original quest tale. We cheer on Horace as he painstakingly refines his newly found talent to enable objects to travel in time. Meanwhile, Chloe is also strengthening her own unique gift for hiding in plain sight. Horace, Chloe and their new companions - Neptune, who can float, and Gabriel, who can temporarily blind - set out to rescue Chloe's father. He is being held hostage by the malevolent race of beings called the Riven, who hunger to claim all Tanu for their own. I was left longing for the next episode. "A School for Unusual Girls," by Kathleen Baldwin, is enticing from the first sentence: "What if Sir Isaac Newton's parents had packed him off to a school to reform his manners?" Our protofeminist teenage protagonist, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam, known as Georgie, utters those lines. Possessing the robust intellect of a promising scientist along with a lack of interest in conforming to the societal norms of early 1800s England, she's banished to a boarding school with a reputation for "reforming" recalcitrant girls into compliant companions. This first installment of the Stranje House series has all the markers of a Regency romance - elaborate manners, rigid social hierarchies and historical accuracy about the fine points of clothing and culture. Baldwin has an ear for period dialogue as she draws us into this world of sharp, smart young ladies who are actually being trained and deployed for the British war effort by the mysterious headmistress, Miss Stranje. It's speculative historical fiction, with a trace of steampunk inventiveness: Would a refinement of invisible ink in 1814 have changed the course of history, helping the British evade spies in the war they were fighting on multiple fronts? Swoony moments also abound ("An instant later, his mouth found mine....It felt as if he poured years of hunger and longing, thousands of heartbreaking secrets into me, into this one urgent moment"); after all, this is a romance as well. Yet gender stereotypes are turned upside down as the women, who each have an unusual talent, plan a daring spy mission. Georgie literally flies to the rescue of her beloved Sebastian, taken captive in an enemy stronghold. "The Sin Eater's Daughter," another debut novel, combines the compelling world-building narrative style of Kristin Cashore's "Graceling" with the political intrigue of Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief." In this well-imagined fantasy world, we meet Twylla, who is the "chosen one," identified when she was still a young child by royal leaders as the hand of the ancient gods. Narrating the novel in a rueful voice, she slowly reveals her situation: As the embodiment of the gods on earth, she is able to survive the intake of poison and then kill another with a poisonous touch. Promised to be wed to the prince, whom she hardly knows since he has been on diplomatic missions for years, she lives in the palace, feared by all who come in close proximity. She can touch no one. But according to the lore, the prince's royal blood will protect him from the poison contained in hers. Twylla's days are spent in prayer, though she is occasionally called upon to perform an execution by merely laying hands on the guilty party. She witnesses the casual cruelty of the queen but knows she has no power to prevent the terrible punishments the queen relishes. Melinda Salisbury wraps the horror of Twylla's situation in the complex spiritual traditions of the kingdom. Besides her poisonous role as the chosen one, she is also the daughter of the Sin Eater, whose duty is to be present after a death to consume a meal that contains the sins of the departed, thereby saving the person's soul from damnation. "I'd watched my mother Eat coddled eggs for thieves and boiled horse liver for scolds and nags," Twylla says, and she was raised to expect to take her mother's place, since it's a hereditary position. Coming of age in the palace, cloistered from people and deprived of an education, Twylla believes without question her spiritual purpose. It is only when she's seduced by the seemingly guileless charm of her newly appointed guard, Lief, that the veil of naïveté lifts. Once she sees the darker truth of the kingdom, she begins to imagine a different kind of future for herself. "I don't live in the stories of old," she says in an epilogue as she begins a new life, and we wonder what stories are ahead for her. All of these books offer a chance to experience the new and anticipatory pleasure of starting a series. As the best series have always done, they suggest future bingereading: getting through all of Narnia in a week, visiting Earthsea and staying for a long while, and reaching to the very end of Middle-earth only to begin again. LISA VON DRASEK is the curator of the Children's Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota. She writes about children's and young adult books at www.earlyword.com.