44 pages 1 hour read

Gordon Korman

The Fort

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


The Fort (June 2022) is a standalone novel by Canadian American children’s author Gordon Korman. Korman began writing as a teenager and sold his first book when he was a high school freshman. In a career that spans four decades, he has penned numerous middle-grade and teen novels. The Fort is his 100th book. His works have sold 35 million copies worldwide, and his 39 Clues series has reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Korman has also received multiple reader’s choice and best book awards from various organizations during his long career. His Masterminds Trilogy has been optioned for film. Titles include Masterminds (2015), Masterminds: Criminal Destiny (2016), and Masterminds: Payback (2017). Other titles of note include The Unteachables (2019), Ungifted (2012), and Supergifted (2018).

The Fort is intended for readers aged 8 to 12. This study guide and all its page citations are based on the Kindle edition of the novel.

Content Warning: The story deals with difficult subjects such as divorce, obsessive-compulsive disorder, juvenile delinquency, and parental abuse.

Plot Summary

The novel is set in the small town of Canaan, North Carolina, during the fall of an unspecified contemporary year. Its five protagonists, all boys between the ages of 12 and 13, take turns narrating individual chapters. Each tells his segment of the story using a first-person point of view. One chapter in the middle of the book is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Luke Donnelly, the older brother of one of the book’s central characters, but this chapter is the only departure from narration by the core group. The central premise involves five schoolmates who stumble across an abandoned fallout shelter and do everything in their power to protect their secret refuge and each other. As the boys’ stories unfolds, the novel examines the themes of Troubled Lives, A Family of Friends, and The Burden of Secrecy.

The novel begins with Evan Donnelly complaining that he must spend the day with a boy who is new in town—Ricky Molina. Ricky is very smart and once attended a magnet school before he moved to Canaan. Evan doesn’t want to befriend this know-it-all because he already has close friends he has known since childhood. C.J. Sciutto is a daredevil who engages in risky stunts on his bicycle or skateboard. Mitchell Worth is tense and struggles with schoolwork as he deals with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Jason Brax is at the center of his parents’ joint custody battle in their messy divorce. His world revolves around his girlfriend, Janelle.

The other reason Evan doesn’t want Ricky to join the group is because the boys have built a secret fort for themselves in the woods. However, Evan’s grandmother insists that Ricky must have some company while his bedroom window is being repaired after being damaged by Hurricane Leo. Evan grudgingly allows Ricky to tag along when he meets up with the rest of the group at the fort. To everyone’s dismay, the hurricane has wrecked their makeshift lean-to. As they scavenge the woods for anything they can salvage from the windstorm, Ricky stumbles across a metal plate in the ground that has been exposed by the storm. It turns out to be the hatch door of an underground bunker.

The boys enter and are amazed to find a 30-foot living space complete with furniture, electricity, running water, and a chemical toilet. The shelter also contains vintage videotape movies and vinyl records from the 1970s. They find a video made by the bunker’s owner, wealthy eccentric Bennett Delamere, who is now deceased. He says that he created the shelter in anticipation of World War III. Since Delamere has no wife or children to claim the space, the boys take possession and swear each other to secrecy. Ricky is allowed to be part owner of the fort because he was the one who found the hatch in the first place.

Over the following weeks, the boys make the fort their refuge and enjoy playing video games, watching old movies, playing records, and raiding the canned goods in the pantry. Aside from the pleasure of a secret hideout, each boy uses the fort to escape troubles at home, but no one wants to confess their problems to each other.

Matters come to a head when C.J.’s abusive father finds the fort at the same time as two teenagers who have been threatening the boys. In the altercation that follows, the boys learn to trust one another and realize that they have each other’s backs even when their guardians don’t. In the end, their secret fort is discovered and shut down for good, but it served the necessary purpose of creating a refuge for five boys who desperately needed one.