CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 17 . . . . April 18, 2008
The latest book from prolific Gordon Korman, a stand-alone juvenile novel about getting mad and then getting even, centers around what happens when two sixth-grade boys stumble upon a rare and valuable Babe Ruth baseball card, are tricked into selling it for peanuts, and then decide to get it back. This latter action proves to be no small feat, but Griffin Bing has more than a little experience in the planning department, plus he has Ben Slovak, his loyal best friend and right hand man, as well as a crew of resourceful classmates to help him pull it off. What ensues is a sometimes funny, often suspenseful, and even more often, surprising tale of triumph of the good guys over the bad – but man, is it a close call!
Through the voice of his justice-hungry young hero, 11-year-old Griffin Bing, Korman skillfully captures the sense of outrage of children in this age group who discover, as they grow up, just how unfair life can be…especially when it's the adults who are the ones breaking all the rules! Using the storyline of the sneaky swindle perpetrated against Griffin and his best friend Ben by unscrupulous collectibles dealer S. Wendell Palomino, the author also explores the very real frustration that kids of every age and era have experienced: that of not being taken seriously – or worse, being taken advantage of – just because they're kids.
Griffin Bing is one kid who vows to make adults stand up, take notice, and think twice about dismissing kids' opinions and abilities. So, true to his nickname, "The Man With The Plan" designs an elaborate heist to take back what is rightfully his. This time, it's not only justice itself that's at stake, but his entire life as he knows it: with Griffin’s family's finances in dire straits, his parents have been forced to put their house up for sale, and it looks as if moving out of the only home he's ever known and leaving all his friends behind is inevitable…unless Griffin can find a way help end his family's money troubles. A way like a baseball card worth over a million dollars.
As readers have come to expect from Gordon Korman, Swindle is written in upbeat, informal prose full of contemporary references that will draw kids in from its first pages. Each of the rather extensive cast of characters possesses a distinct voice; Griffin's in particular comes through loud and clear and engages the reader with its critical zing and sharp sarcasm, tempered by what is clearly a caring and sensitive nature. The character of Griffin's loyal best friend and faithful sidekick, Ben, is equally true-to-life, and the deep friendship between the two boys is one of the most appealing aspects of the story. Unfortunately, compared to the realistic and very human voices of Griffin and Ben, most other characters in the book come off as rather one-dimensional stereotypes: there's Logan, the narcissistic child-actor who thinks of nothing but advancing his career; Savannah, the sentimental animal-lover and keeper of a veritable home zoo; Darren, the mean-spirited bully who remains a mean-spirited bully to the end; and, last but not least, Palomino, the story's most villainous of villains, who enters and exits the story as a slimy scoundrel through and through.
Luckily, the flatness of the secondary characters is balanced by the depth of the relationship between Griffin and Ben who go through their fair share of ups and downs as the plot snakes its way through not a few twists, turns, and spanners in the works. Children reading this book will recognize themselves and their own struggles to navigate the sometimes muddy waters of friendship. Over the course of the story, Griffin experiences heartbreak over what he sees as Ben's desertion, and Ben despair at having disappointed his friend. Finally, each boy undergoes a separate realization that his friend was facing problems of which he wasn't aware. In the end, Griffin and Ben's status as best friends is reinstated, and the emotional dimension which the changes in their relationship bring to the book greatly enriches the, at first, seemingly light-hearted and superficial Swindle.
From the point of view of this one-time eager young connoisseur of Korman's particular brand of wacky literary humour, Swindle is a fun and fast-paced read that will appeal to kids with a range of reading tastes. This baseball-themed book has its bases covered in terms of humour,
suspense and action, and it hits a home run for its believable and warm portrayal of the loyal friendship between two sixth-grade boys.
Tara Williston is a student in the Master's of Library and Information Studies program at the University of British Columbia, and a soon-to-be (she hopes!) Children's Librarian.
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