54 pages 1 hour read

Gordon Korman

Born to Rock

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2006

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Summary and Study Guide


Gordan Korman’s 2006 young adult coming-of-age novel Born to Rock follows teenager Leo Caraway as he sets out to get to know his biological father—the frontman of a legendary punk rock band—hoping to fund his college tuition while navigating the foreign world of punk rock and gets to know his roots. The novel, which was written for and dedicated to Korman’s son, also named Leo, explores themes of genetics, identity, self-expression, and lying.

Korman is a prominent middle grade and young adult novelist, with over a dozen series and over 30 standalone titles.

This study guide follows the 2017 Hyperion Teens new paperback edition of the novel.

Content Warning: This novel contains mentions of drugs, violence, and sexual assault, and those mentions are reflected in the contents of this study guide.

Plot Summary

Leo Caraway is president of his high school’s Young Republicans club with early Harvard acceptance. Leo became a Young Republican to control an unruly part of his personality he calls “McMurphy.” Leo finds himself at odds with his oldest friend, Melinda Rapaport, who dresses in goth attire and supports liberal causes. Melinda tries to steer Leo away from his Republican identity, but Leo holds strong.

When Melinda posts an essay on punk rock to her blog, Leo comes across a familiar name: Marion X. McMurphy, also known as punk rock legend King Maggot. Marion is Leo’s biological father, which Leo discovered at age 10. Because Leo’s mom refuses to talk about it—she went to the show, was dazzled by King, and doesn’t remember the night well—Leo reads all he can about King Maggot, the unruly and angry frontman of Purge, the most influential punk band of the 80s. Leo feels this is the source of his McMurphy.

Leo is mistaken accused of cheating on a math test and earns a mark on his record. It won’t affect his Harvard admission, but his scholarship foundation revokes his scholarship. His family cannot afford to pay for Harvard on their own.

When Melinda tells Leo that Purge is reuniting for a summer punk music festival, Concussed, Leo realizes that King Maggot is rich enough to pay for Harvard. When he and Melinda come to a Concussed press conference, Leo rushes the stage and throws a letter at King Maggot, claiming to be King’s son. Security carries him out. Melinda thinks Leo is mocking her music. Leo’s dad is sad Leo is pursuing King for money, and Leo’s mom is upset to remember the night he was conceived.

King Maggot’s lawyer calls Leo to arrange a meeting. The next day, Leo meets Purge’s manager—and King Maggot’s cousin—Bernie McMurphy. King Maggot doesn’t remember Leo’s mom and wishes he did. Leo has the same McMurphy ear notch as King, but before they take a DNA test, King suggests they get to know each other. Leo joins Purge on the Concussed tour as a roadie, planning to ask King for Harvard money after the DNA results come back. When Leo tells Melinda that he and King are likely related, Melinda is distant.

On the first day of Concussed, no one is kind to Leo except Bernie. Purged takes the stage, and Leo is in awe of King Maggot’s stage presence. He feels this is where McMurphy comes from. On the tour, Leo faces many trials. The other roadies treat him poorly, he can’t get any time with King, and his Republican identity and worldview are regularly challenged by the punk rock scene. Purge, meanwhile, face their own issues, some of which are related to aging: Their guitarist injures himself at the first show, their bassist struggles with his weight, and their drummer is going through a messy divorce.

When Leo misses his flight with the rest of the band, he goes to the festival grounds, only to discover Melinda and her friend Owen following the tour across the country. Melinda is bitter toward Leo after learning he’s a roadie for Purge. They give him a ride anyway, and Leo gets them backstage passes as a thank you.

King Maggot is arrested for punching a reporter, and Leo camps out outside the courthouse waiting for King’s hearing the next morning. King is touched that Leo cares; they finally connect when King hears that Leo has a destructive streak. He teaches Leo how to make guttural screams and the meaning of punk.

When Leo sees Melinda and Owen after not seen them for a while, Melinda is tan and no longer goth. Leo is attracted to her, but he doesn’t say anything. Melinda meets King, who asks about her like a father would ask about his son’s girlfriend. Bernie also makes Melinda and Owen feel welcome, but Leo realizes Bernie is pursuing Melinda. When Bernie takes Melinda to his room, Leo rushes after them and busts in on them, interrupting Bernie pressuring Melinda into sex. Leo punches Bernie and Melinda flees. As Leo leaves Bernie’s room, he sees the DNA results in an envelope.

Leo steals the DNA results from Bernie’s room the next day. The test reveals that Bernie—not King Maggot—is Leo’s biological father. Leo realizes Bernie was—and still is—a sexual predator. He’s angry, knowing this means Harvard is off the table. He seeks comfort in Melinda at the campground, and they kiss. Leo tells Melinda everything. After a few days, King Maggot retrieves Leo from the campground, angry that Leo left without telling anyone. Surprised King cares, Leo realizes Bernie didn’t tell King about the DNA results. Leo rejoins the tour, hoping Harvard is still on the table.

Purge’s final performance is halted by police, who stop the band from playing due to an injunction filed by their former guitarist. They also reveal a hoard of jewelry in the drum kit—money the drummer was hiding from divorce lawyers. Leo and the rest of the band submit to a cavity search. Purge breaks up. King Maggot says he’ll always be a father to Leo and encourages Leo to ask if he needs anything, but Leo doesn’t ask for Harvard money.

Leo meets with the assistant principal to beg for the mark on his record to be expunged. The assistant principal remains stubborn until King Maggot crashes through the office window on a motorcycle. He offers to pay for Leo’s tuition. Leo confesses they aren’t father and son, but King Maggot doesn’t care. They are family and he cares about Leo. Leo leaves, feeling comfortable with his McMurphy side.