By the Book: Gordon Korman’s Latest Is a Hypnotic Adventure

Do the math: Gordon Korman, who lives on Long Island, started writing books when he was 12 and can now, at almost 50, boast 75 books (17 million copies), two thirds of which target middle grade and teen readers and some of which were New York Times bestsellers. That’s about two books a year (standalones and series) since he started publishing at the age of 14. Who says you can’t go home again, and again? Korman sold his first manuscript when he was in the 7th grade to Scholastic Press (he was the Scholastic Reading Club monitor for his class), and Scholastic has just published The Hypnotist, an imaginative 240-page adventure tale for ages 8–12. Harry Potter fans need not fret (there’s even a Voldemort reference on p. 197) because The Hypnotist is in that magical line.

Jackson Opus, called Jax, is a gifted kid with a good heart who wants to do The Right Thing, a devoted son (his parents don’t know the full extent of his genetic talent, nor does he, at first), he comes from a long line of famous hypnotists on both sides, though the power seems to have skipped his parents. A dedicated but not super-achieving student, Jax is a faithful buddy to his BFF Tommy and is smart, likable and feisty enough to stand up to bad guys. In short, he’s got heroic creds and enough fallibility to make a reader wonder if he’s going to prevail. Of course he will—but the dark ending of the tale will surprise (though it’s understandable if indeed The Hypnotist is the first in a projected trilogy).

Parents and caregivers can feel easy about leaving their young charges alone with the book, though some teachers may question its designation for grades 3-7. Will the younger set know words such as “leery,” “refurbished,” “dissipated,” “synapse”? Will the older kids get a bit antsy in the middle because of the extended descriptions of “remote hypnosis” and the mechanics of post-hypnotic suggestion? Will they too readily suspect that Dr. Elias Mako, who recruits Jax for his Sentia Institute, is not what he seems? Jax at first sees only the great man who wants him to join his program (after school, of course) in order to become more aware of his power and learn how to use it effectively. It turns out that Jax is unique—he can not only hypnotize others, as he does accidentally at the start of the book, but he can exercise his power remotely, through video! With such an ability to control others’ behavior, he could really help the world. Except that the book’s villain, who has training and experience on his side, has a different idea. It will take Jax a while to catch on.

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For sure, youngsters will be intrigued at the start. Jax and Tommy board a mid-Manhattan bus and, innocently, Jax tells the driver to step on it, he doesn’t want to be late for an important basketball game. Right! The driver goes into a hypnotic trance and the ride is wild. Then there’s the game itself, Jax’s team overcoming the opposition star (who is “bent” hypnotically and misses shots) and winning the championship. As the plot thickens, Jax accepts the fact that he has an extraordinary gift, but he also becomes aware of the risks and dangers attendant on exercising it. He comes to long for the days “when he thought bent meant crooked.”

The book is not without humor, as when Jax is told, that “the art of suggestion is very literal” and that’s why “sandmen” [those in a hypnotic trance] make “lousy Little League coaches.”

“You tell a kid to steal a base and he sticks it under his shirt and runs for the parking lot.” Occasionally, however, a line or two will seem beyond prospective readers, like when Jax meets the leader of an odd-ball bunch of characters who belong to a Hypnotists Anonymous group led by Axel Braintree, who’s said to look like “an ex-hippie turned Walmart greeter.” Still, a read for the younger set is never a bad thing.

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