Masterminds by Gordon Korman
This tame science fiction thriller by popular author Korman is great for kids who want an action-packed book but not too much trauma. Eli Frieden lives in Serenity, New Mexico. It is like a modern Pleasantville. There are only 30 kids in the small community and they are all well-off. Most of their parents work at the town Plasticworks making parking cones and the kids spend their time working on their personal goals for Contentment, swimming with their friends in each other’s pools and biking around the block. There are no worries, everyone is friends, and no one has ever heard of burglary or murder. Bad things only happen outside their town. There is no crime. No one even wants to leave, and no one ever has left (until they go to college and usually come back). Everyone is excited about the town’s history day and they are all gearing up for their projects to show the town.
One day Eli and his best friend Randy bike towards the city limits to check out an old classic car Randy saw another day biking with his dad. As soon as they hit the outskirts of town, Eli falls to the ground with a horrible headache and nausea and collapses. From out of nowhere the Plasticsworks security, nicknamed “Purple People Eaters” by the kids, land their helicopter and whisk Eli away to the hospital. The next day, Randy mysteriously leaves Serenity to live with his grandparents in a different state. Eli tries to say goodbye and Randy’s parents act strangely brusque. As the car pulls away Randy cryptically calls out that he’ll write to Eli.
When Eli finds Randy’s hidden, handwritten note, he convinces his friends Tori and Malik to help him investigate. The kids discover the shocking truth and make a plan to break out of Serenity. The characters aren’t the most developed, but they are fun and the book is based on the action. Still, the characters are still genuinely and appropriately affected by their discovery, and they face realistic obstacles in trying to make their escape and join the larger world. The alternating narrators are fun because the reader gets to see how brainwashed some of these kids are in their patriotism to their town.
I loved this book. It’s almost like a Michael Vey series for younger kids. I think anyone from a strong 3rd grade reader to 6th grade would enjoy this series. Gordon Korman’s other books are also extremely popular.

Read-alikes: Michael Vey by Evans, The Whisper by Emma Clayton