Allison's Book Bag

Swindle by Gordon Korman

Posted on: May 20, 2015

Spend a night in a haunted house. Sounds like a typical adventure for young people. Plan a robbery that involves getting past a menacing guard dog, utilizing a high-security tech team, and torching a safe. Sounds a little more like a typical adventure for adults. Swindle by Gordon Korman is a fast-paced read about which I have mixed feelings.

A popular pick of my reluctant boy readers is the Swindle series by Gordon Korman. When I ask them to tell me about the plot, first they tell me it’s about Griffin who discovers a valuable baseball card. Griffin asks a collector how much the card is worth and he lies about the card being worth millions. Then they tell me it’s about how Griffin decides to steal the card back. To do that, he needs a plan and a team. My students don’t remember much else about Swindle except the security dog, which incidentally is featured on the cover. Most young people love animals and so having a dog on the cover woos them. Many young people also enjoy movies like Mission Impossible and so the lure of a heist keeps them flipping pages. So far so good.

For me as an adult, I appreciate how much Gordon Korman understands young people. From his earliest days of writing the Bruno and Boots titles, Korman knows that pranks lay at the heart of young boys. As do wisecracks and rebellion. And so immediately in Swindle, Korman introduces us to Griffin and his friend Ben, who are planning an overnight sleepover at a house slated for demolition. Ben rambles about the house is haunted, while Griffin stoutly talks about how the adults should have listened to their plan for a Skate and Roller Park. In true form, when the wrecking ball hits the house, the two boys give no thought to the wrongness of trespassing, but instead applaud the speed and stamina of their escape. After this, comes the card appraisal and the planned heist.

The latter is where as an adult, I start to feel a little unease. In the series that launched Korman’s career over thirty years ago, the main characters of Bruno and Boots commit relatively harmless pranks against an arch-rival hockey team and later against a headmaster in retaliation for him separating them as roommates at a private school. It all feels like innocent fun, reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In contrast, in Korman’s newest series, our heroes of Griffin and Ben plan an actual crime. Their rationale is that because property was stolen from them, they have the right to steal it back. What concerns me most is we’re not talking about petty theft here, which even this would be wrong, but rather about breaking into a real store and a locked safe to steal a million-dollar card. It feels a little too much like sophisticated crime, reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven and other movie crime fare. That said, none of my students have given me the slightest indication that theft is acceptable. For them, Swindle is harmless fun.

Back to the fact that Swindle is a popular pick of my reluctant boy readers. Although my students do eagerly push their way through the first title, they do tend to get more confused by later titles. In those, the cast starts out not with just Griffin and Ben but instead includes all their friends. Also, while they might like titles that read like adult action stories, it doesn’t mean they really understand them. Listening to my reluctant boy readers talk about the Swindle titles has been enlightening to me. They really do like the dog, Luther, who actually figures in the rest of the series. I like Luther too. He’s a Doberman who has been trained to protect, and therefore seems vicious, but really wants to love and be loved.

I’ve long been a fan of Gordon Korman, ever since being introduced to Bruno and Boots as a young person. Several years ago, I even got to hear Korman speak at a literary festival. Despite mild qualms about Swindle, Gordon Kormon remains a fun author whose books I do recommend.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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