Monday, October 30, 2017

Restart by Gordon Korman: A Review and Audio CD Giveaway

What if you’re an 8th grade football player who has built your reputation around bullying. You’re suddenly given the opportunity to rewind the clock and restart your life. Would you do it? 

That’s the problem that Chase Ambrose faces in Restart by Gordon Korman. After falling off his roof and going into a coma, he wakes up in a hospital and can't remember anything. Not his mother, brother, or the picture on his phone of three boys (including himself) who are thrilled over some sort of prank. (Note: since this review is of the audio CD provided by Recorded Books quotes might not be absolutely accurate. I did my best!)


I reach back for an image of mom and come up totally empty. Ditto dad, home, school, and friends, and I come back empty….I’m blank. I’m like a computer with it’s a hard drive wiped clean. You can reboot it and it’s operating system works fine. But when you look for a document file to open, nothing’s there. Not even my own name.

The doctor says his ability to access his memory has been damaged and there's no telling when it will return. Meanwhile he must re-meet everyone in his life for the first time. In this way, he learns about himself before his accident. He sees his father and step-mother and step-sister and thinks, "They already know me, but don’t like me. What did I do to them? They look like I’m a time bomb going off in their face. Karin shrinks back like I’m going to eat her."

Being in his own room is weird. There are dozens of photos and shelves of trophies. "I’m really somebody. I only wish I knew who. I’ve been parachuted into someone else’s life. What kind of person am I?"

Korman uses multiple points-of-view to show how Chase is perceived by his peers. Through their reactions he gains clues as to who he used to be. In Chapter 2 the reader meets Shoshanna Weber at a frozen yogurt parlor. He smiles at her and she "goes ballistic," dumping her yogurt on his head. "He looked as if he’d never seen me in my whole life—not like he’d played a starring role in destroying my family."

Back in his POV on the first day of 8th grade, Chase gets dropped off and has no idea who anyone is:

All I see are football players who push people out of the way and are supposed to be my friends. They eye each other like they don’t believe me.  I don’t blame them for not believing me. I'm surrounded by all these people and I’m still alone. 
He meets with the principal who chooses his words carefully:

"This is a rare opportunity to rebuild yourself from ground up. Don’t squander it. Millions would want a blank canvas." I’m struggling to find the person I was, and he wants me to change? What was wrong with the old me that now I have to be somebody else?

Chapter 4 is narrated by Brendan, a member of the video club who is shocked when Chase comes to sit with him. Despite Shoshana's disapproval, he becomes Chase's new best friend and invites him to the video club. 

Meanwhile, his football buddies, Aaron and Bear (other POV characters), are loud and obnoxious and wonder why he'd rather hang out with the video kids than with them. Chase tags along when they go to a local nursing home for their community service. He finds out that he'd also been sentenced to service and discovers the awful prank the three of them pulled off. He befriends Mr. Solway, a Korean vet, who jokes that they are "memory loss buddies." This friendship proves pivotal in the book.

Aaron wonders, "Is the old Ambrose trapped in there and will come out and be normal?"  Chase wonders the same thing. His new normal is being a stranger in a strange land. "I’m definitely famous at school, but am I famous good or famous bad? Everyone has a slightly different version of me. Who should I believe?"

As Chase searches for who he once was and who he is now, his father pushes him to become the champion football prayer he once was. Returning memories of feeling powerful and confidant on the football field layer in more conflict for Chase.

Korman's ability to delve deeply into Chase's POV makes this book an insightful look at bullying. In moments of awareness, Chase realizes that he and his friends bullied others to feel better about themselves, and that he’ll never be able to erase their memories of who he was before his concussion. 

The last third of the book moves quickly through misunderstandings between characters, lies, complicated motivations, high stakes, and ultimately to Chase taking responsibility for his behavior before falling off the roof. 

Restart (Scholastic, 2017) is masterfully written and will be a great classroom resources on  bullying. Up until the end it seemed a little stereotypical: before his accident, Chase was the bad, bullying football player, and afterwards he became a goody-goody that Bear and Aaron didn't recognize. But in the end, Shoshanna in her forthright manner gave an honest perspective of Chase: 

It's the mix of good and bad that makes my head spin....
The big question is what kind of person is Chase going to be now? He gave the medal back--that's a plus. But there are minuses too, like at school, when he lied to cover up for his old friends. I'm not saying that to make him look bad; I'm trying to give you a totally honest picture of Chase today. Thanks to falling off that roof, he's been given a chance to restart his whole life.

A Mini-Author Interview (via Twitter)

CAROL: What prompted Restart?

GORDON: The topic of how kids treat one another-and why- has always been fascinating to me. This began as almost a thought experiment about the nature versus nurture of what makes a bully. 

CAROL: The multiple POV works so well for this story. Why did you decide to use it?

GORDON: I've been doing multiple POV for a couple of decades, dating back to NO MORE DEAD DOGS and before. It doesn't work for every type of story, but it's great for portraying an environment- a middle school, let's say--as the rolling, chaotic maelstrom and axes to grind that it really is. Often, different narrators will see the same set of events completely different. It's a style I use a lot lately, and kids genuinely seem to respond to it. 

Audio CD Giveaway

The fact that the audio CD is narrated by multiple narrators conveys the real feel of a school environment. To enter the giveaway, please leave me a comment by 5 PM on November 3. If I don't have your email address, please leave that too! Share this on social media or become a new follower of my blog, and I'll enter you twice. Just let me know what you did in your comment. 

Bonus: Here is an audio snippet from Brendan's POV.


Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Wow! Restart sounds like an emotionally uplifting book! There are many times in our lives we might want a chance to do things differently. Congratulations to Gordon for writing this story.

Thanks for sharing it and a few facts about its author, too.

Never Give Up

Young Authors Program said...

I love the concept and premise of this book! Definitely sounds like something for my son to read when he gets a little older.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Dorothy and Joan. Your names start this list. Even if you don't win, I hope you get it for your son and grandkids!

Linda Phillips said...

Oh, I want this one, since my current WIP deals with bullying and memory loss as well and this sounds like a beautifully written work. Off to share on twitter! Thanks for another great review, Carol.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. You ‘re in twice. You’ve got to read it!

Theresa Jones said...

This sounds interesting, such a hot topic right now. Will share on twitter and add to my goodreads list.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for commenting, Theresa. You're in twice!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm a big fan of Gordon Korman's work. I'd love to win this book!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Theresa. I thought you'd like this book. Your name is in the hat.

sheri levy said...

This sounds wonderful and very interesting. Thanks for sharing another powerful story.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Sheri. I’ve already chosen a winner but I hope u will get the book.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Oh my goodness! I am so excited that I won the CD for RESTART! Thank you, Carol Baldwin for sharing Gordon Korman's book with us.I'm going to enjoy listening to it.

Never Give Up

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