‘Restart’ by Gordon Korman is fine middle grade fiction

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“Restart” by Gordon Korman is typical fabulous Korman middle grade fiction wherein a boy — usually in middle school — goes through an experience that changes him. In “Restart” Korman’s protagonist, Chase Ambrose, is a fairly dark character.

The reader learns that this middle school sports prodigy, a football player who has won awards, is also a terrible human being. He delights in bullying others. In fact, one fellow student has been so tormented by Chase and his two best friends that he’s left school and gone to a private school. Chase and his friends had set firecrackers to go off in the piano he was playing on during a concert.

When the story opens, Chase is in the hospital after falling head first off the roof of his house. He is lucky he didn’t die. He’s even luckier that he has lost his memory.

It doesn’t appear that way in the beginning. But when the amnesiac Chase returns to school, he doesn’t understand why kids in the hallway appear to be afraid of him. When he accidentally befriends Brendan Espinoza, a former tormentee, Chase ends up in video club with a bunch of those kids whom he formerly tormented. But while Chase doesn’t remember any of it, Shoshanna Weber remembers it all too well. It was her brother, Joel, who left school because of the bullying.

The story is told from different first person points of view, and that’s an excellent choice because the reader gets to know what the different characters are thinking and feeling. And because the reader is “hearing” from many of the students, the reader actually knows more about the main character, Chase, than he does himself. And that’s an interesting fact to point out to children reading this book.

But even though Chase is a changed kid, he’s not perfect. While his former behavior and choices actually disgust him in his changed persona, he does stoop to take the easy way out when it’s presented to him.

In this well written and timely story, Korman doesn’t just address bullying and its effect on others. He also raises important questions about right and wrong and how schools tend to worship their athletes who can do no wrong.  Korman skirts a fine line with his characters. While they occasionally come perilously close to stereotypes of athletes, nerds, and groupies, he manages to imbue each of them with enough individuality and personality that they seem real.

This book would be a great choice for a classroom read from fifth grade through seventh grade — the issues it raises are worthy of discussion. For fans of previous books, this one won’t disappoint!

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Scholastic Press, the publisher, for review purposes.