105 pages 3 hours read

Gordon Korman


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Ungifted is a 2012 novel for children written by Gordon Korman and is the recipient of the 2014 Red Cedar Award. Narrated from multiple perspectives, the story follows Donovan Curtis, an average student at Hardcastle Middle School who is accidentally sent to an academy for gifted kids. It chronicles the characters’ growth and change as they learn to balance intellectual achievement with experience and social engagement.

Donovan is a prankster who struggles to control his impulses. One day, he feels moved to whack a statue of Atlas on his campus. The force of the blow, combined with a flaw in the statue’s design, result in the globe separating from Atlas’s shoulders, rolling down a hill, and crashing into the school’s crowded gymnasium. School superintendent Dr. Shultz, who is on campus at the time, attending a basketball game, catches Donovan and writes his name on a slip of paper. Thinking that paper is a list of students for the gifted academy, his secretary submits Donovan’s name, and he is transferred. Though he knows he is not gifted, Donovan vows not to squander his lucky escape from Dr. Shultz by doing everything he can to fit in.

From his first bus ride to school, Donovan notices how differently gifted students are treated, compared to average students. Teachers, administrators, and even bus drivers expect gifted students to experiment and theorize and treat them accordingly. Actions that would get him into trouble at his old school are seen as expressions of intellectual curiosity at the academy.

Donovan’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Osborne, is also the robotics teacher, and Donovan joins the team despite knowing nothing about robots. When the class introduces the robot, Donovan wants to know what its name is, but the students have never thought to name it. Donovan calls the robot Tin Man, and the name sticks. Mr. Osborne notices that giving Tin Man his name has humanized the class and brought them together as a team, but Donovan’s other teachers, especially his math teacher, Ms. Bevelaqua, are concerned about his poor grades and limited motivation. Donovan’s classmates Chloe, Abigail, and Noah, who also narrate chapters in the book, recognize that Donovan is not gifted. Abigail believes he does not belong at the academy, but Noah and Chloe value the social engagement he brings to their class. Chloe longs to be normal, which for her means going to parties and dances and having friends. Noah, whose IQ is 206, most wants to know that he is capable of making mistakes, which for him represent a sense of possibility.

Donovan knows being at the academy keeps him out of Dr. Shultz’s orbit. He uses his social skills to ingratiate himself with his classmates. His skill with a joystick, developed over years of playing video games, makes him an ideal candidate for driving the robot, which will give the team an edge at their upcoming robotics competition. When Donovan discovers the students need to make up a course called Human Growth and Development, he offers his pregnant sister, Katie, as their class case study, and the project is a hit with both Katie and the gifted students. He introduces Noah to YouTube, and Noah is captivated by the content’s unpredictability.

Donovan’s new life puts him at odds with his old friends, Daniel Nussbaum and Daniel Sanderson. They tease him for being at the gifted school and make fun of his classmates for being brainiacs and nerds, but Donovan has genuinely bonded with his academy classmates and sticks up for them. Owing to the damage to Hardcastle’s gym, administrators move their Valentine’s dance to the academy, and Chloe achieves her wish to attend a dance. Meanwhile, Donovan shows the Daniels his class’s robot in an attempt to bond with them. As he is about the leave the dance, he sees the Daniels with Tin Man in the middle of the dance floor and rushes to protect Tin Man, but the robot is damaged. The academy students are devastated that they will have to withdraw from the competition, so Donovan helps them steal a motor from the custodians’ floor polisher. Chloe and Noah note that while the rest of the class theorizes, analyzes, and wrings their hands, Donovan provides real-life solutions.

Just as his bond with his classmates continues to grow, Donovan learns he is going to be retested. Knowing he cannot pass the test, Donovan anticipates being expelled, but during the test, he realizes the mouse is picking the correct answers. One of his classmates has hacked into the system to answer the questions for him, and he passes. Ms. Bevelaqua is convinced he cheated and begins investigating. Realizing the teachers cannot keep up with their brilliant students intellectually, she attempts to extract a confession through intimidation, with no success.

Dr. Shultz is so grateful to Katie for allowing the students to follow her pregnancy that he visits the school to thank her and finally catches Donovan. Dr. Shultz expels Donovan from the academy, and Donovan returns to Hardcastle, which now feels academically unchallenging. Donovan also struggles socially. The Daniels want him to be the impulsive prankster he used to be, but he has changed. Back at the academy, Chloe misses Donovan and cuts school to visit him at Hardcastle, but he is absent. She runs into the Daniels, who find out when the robotics competition is and, in an attempt to cheer Donovan up, conspire with Katie to bring him to see it.

At the competition, the robotics team is dejected without their star robot driver. They stagger into the final round, but their competition sabotages Tin Man. In the stands, Donovan is outraged. He hurtles himself down onto the competition floor, takes control of Tin Man, and he and Noah destroy the competition’s robot. The judges disqualify both teams. At that moment, Katie goes into labor, and the team abandons the competition to accompany her to the hospital, where she gives birth to a baby girl. The baby’s birth is a turning point for Noah, who had read Katie’s sonogram and predicted she would have a boy. Excited to discover he has made a genuine mistake, Noah decides to make the change he has been longing for. He gets himself expelled from the academy by planting evidence that he cheated for Donovan and becomes a student at Hardcastle. Classmates with Donovan again, Noah is excited to be facing the only thing that can truly challenge him: social engagement. Through the intervention of Mr. Osborne, Donovan and Noah are permitted to return to the academy for robotics classes.

At the end of the book, Donovan acknowledges that he has not completely mastered his impulses, though he is trying. Eventually, though, he assumes they will return and get him into twice as much trouble.