62 pages 2 hours read

Gordon Korman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Linked is a 2021 middle-grade novel by Canadian American author Gordon Korman. Set in a small town in Colorado and told from the points of view of five students, the novel traces a school’s response to the appearance of swastikas in their community and the reverberations of their response around the world. The novel explores themes concerning The Importance of Memory, The Power of Individual and Community Action, and The Complexity of Motives.

This study guide refers to the Scholastic Kindle edition.

Content Warning: This book discusses bigotry and antisemitism.

Plot Summary

The novel begins with Michael, a seventh grader, returning to school to retrieve his cell phone and discovering a swastika painted on the school’s atrium wall. Across town, his popular classmates Link, Pamela, Jordie, Sophie, and Pouncey are interrupted while pulling a prank on the paleontologists in town for a dinosaur dig. Link alone is caught. In the midst of lecturing his son, Link’s father receives news of the swastika.

The following day, Dana, who already feels like an outsider as the daughter of one of the visiting paleontologists, feels like the target of unwanted attention because she is the only Jewish student at the school. Her classmates do not seem to understand the gravity of what has happened until the principal announces that they will begin a three-week tolerance education unit. Link thinks the swastika will be forgotten before the unit is over, and the students quickly tire of it. At an assembly to announce the end of the unit, another swastika appears, and the students feel afraid.

A local media outlet covers the swastikas. They contradict Link’s father, who claims that the swastikas’ appearance is unprecedented, by citing a 1978 KKK gathering, Night of a Thousand Flames, when the town was surrounded by burning crosses. After another swastika appears, the town begins to draw national attention, which frustrates Link’s father; he’d dreamed of the town becoming famous for its dinosaur finds. Link’s mother breaks down in tears over the swastikas, and when Link comforts her, she reveals that her mother recently discovered she is Jewish. Given to nuns as a baby in 1941, Link’s grandmother is the only survivor of the Holocaust in her family. Link is furious that his mother withheld this news and feels like his whole life has changed.

The following day, he seeks out Dana, who is struggling with her own anxieties about the swastikas. After their conversation, Link is determined to have a bar mitzvah. Seventh-grade president Caroline organizes a student council meeting to tackle the problem, and Link promises to go, which encourages other students to attend. Inspired by students in Tennessee who collected six million paper clips to honor the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, Michael suggests the students create a paper chain with six million links. His suggestion is met with enthusiasm.

Link’s friends are puzzled by his desire to have a bar mitzvah, but they support him. Link notices that Pamela’s words of support contradict her expression. Michael falls under suspicion for the swastikas, and he runs through potential suspects in his mind, considering their possible motives. Swastikas continue to appear on school grounds, prompting more students to join the paper chain project. Link asks Dana to help him prepare for his bar mitzvah. A popular video blogger, Adam Tok, arrives in town to film them for his YouTube channel. This infuriates Link’s father, who sues him. The paper chain project grows until the principal is forced to end it due to the school board running out of paper. The students refuse to allow custodians to take apart the paper chain. Caroline takes the story to Adam, after which the school is flooded with paper donations, enabling the project to continue.

Though Link’s father does not understand Link’s insistence on having a bar mitzvah, he takes him to buy a suit for it. While out shopping, they encounter a news crew and agree to take them to see the paper chain, which has grown so large that it has to be stored off campus in a warehouse. As the cameras roll, they find three more swastikas. Adam grills the sheriff, who insists they are doing everything they can to find the culprit. As the paper chain grows, Dana, who had been ambivalent about it, is won over by the momentum and good feelings the project has cultivated. The principal and Dana’s father both believe that it will be impossible to reach six million but that the students should be proud of the effort. Adam continues to conduct interviews in which he criticizes the town’s residents for the swastikas, which continue to appear. Pamela is caught with paint and a wet brush the same color as the most recent swastika.

Rumors fly around the school that the culprit has been caught. Dana is shocked when she learns that it is Pamela, who has been suspended indefinitely and arrested. Dana notices that Adam always seems to have the scoop. He immediately uploads numerous videos detailing Pamela’s family history, including that her great uncle was head of the local KKK. Dana concludes that Adam could have revealed the culprit weeks ago but has been sitting on information to craft a narrative that will grow his audience. Pamela admits to painting all the swastikas except the first one. Meanwhile, the paper chain project continues, drawing more media attention and donations from around the country and world. Michael, Link, and Caroline speak with Holocaust survivors and write the names of their family members who were killed on individual links. When his grandmother visits at Thanksgiving, Link shows her the paper chain, and they bond. After an out-of-state donation tops the six million link mark, everyone celebrates. Adam is condescending toward the students, who are fed up with him, but he promises them one more big reveal: The student responsible for the original swastika is Link.

Link gets suspended. He explains that he has no excuse for his actions; he did not understand all that it signified. He acted impulsively out of anger when his father took him off of the sports team as punishment for his pranks. When the paper chain project came up and he learned that he was Jewish, he saw an opportunity to make up for what he had done. When both drew positive attention, he feared revealing himself would take away from the goodwill they had generated. Link assumes his bar mitzvah will be cancelled, but when he phones Rabbi Gold, who has been helping him, the rabbi is gentle with him and gives him an opportunity to explain. After their conversation, the rabbi wants to go forward with Link’s bar mitzvah.

Initially, Dana feels betrayed by Link, thinking that his family history and planned bar mitzvah are pranks. Her parents take her on a dig, where she discovers the remains of the burnt crosses from the Night of a Thousand Flames. When she returns home, Link is waiting for her, and she realizes that he was sincere in his desire to make amends.

The day of Link’s bar mitzvah, the town is snowed in. Rabbi Gold suggests having it on Zoom. As Link and his father set up their living room for the live stream, Dana arrives in a snowplow to bring Link to their school. She has rallied the town on his behalf, and the auditorium is packed. After he completes his recitation, the students carry him out of the auditorium on their shoulders. Michael reflects that Adam exploited them, but good came from the exposure he brought their paper chain. A museum will be created to commemorate the paper chain and to remember both the Holocaust and the Night of a Thousand Flames.