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Unplugged: 05/12/21


Unplugged by Gordon Korman is a middle grade novel set at a wellness camp in Arkansas. Jett Baranov is the spoiled twelve year old son of a Bay Area tech CEO. Imagine a rival to Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple. Jett doesn't get much time with his parents but he has access to the near infinite funds that Fuego offers, and has his Fuego satelite phone — that is until he's sent to Oasis to unplug. Like Slacker (2016) and it's sequel, Level 13, Jett's time at Oasis is told from multiple points of view. The other POV's are a long time visitor, a boy with allergies, Jett's bodyguard, a devotee of the camp, and the camp bully.

Of all those characters, Jett is the least likable. He also is the character who has the most growth the make. That said, all the characters grow some over this summertime.

Oasis, while set in a fictional, unnamed area approximately an hour from Little Rock, is clearly based on the area around Hot Springs. One of the features of Oasis is The Bath — a geothermal pool that guests sit in to relax. That is, all except Jett, who is too impatient to get used to the temperature. There's also a swiftly moving river abutting the camp. In the book it's called Saline River and it's said to lead all the way back to the bayou. More likely it's the Ouachita River.

Finally, there's Needles — the reptile pictured on the cover. He is the orphan who brings the kids together and gives Jett something to focus on beyond wanting to escape or wanting to get his phone back. The camp has a strict no pets rule, but the kids, starting with Grace (the devotee) come together to keep Needles safe and fed.

Needles is also the impetus that gives Unplugged a Carl Hiaasen feel. Think Hoot (2002) or Flush (2005). In caring for Needles, the kids become aware of a larger mystery. Ultimately it was the mystery that won me over.

That said, all of Jett's adventure at Oasis can be mapped onto the road narrative spectrum. Jett is by no stretch of the imagination, a privileged traveler (00). His destination at Oasis is a rural one (33). His route there and around there is offroad (66): first by airplane, and later by river. Thus Unplugged can be categorized as the tale of a privileged boy going to a rural wellness camp via an offroad route (003366).

Four stars

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