How Gordon Korman uses 6 POVs!?!
With 100 published books (and counting!) Gordon Korman has delighted generations of readers with his signature blend of humor, adventure, and all-around shenanigans. To celebrate the start of summer vacation, let’s look at Korman’s 2021 hit novel, UNPLUGGED. In the book, Jett, son of the world’s wealthiest tech baron, is forced to spend the summer in an off-grid wellness retreat… where all may not be as well as it seems!
Jett is the protagonist, but Korman gets in the heads of no less than six different campers over the course of the story! How does he manage SIX points of view in a novel that clocks in at a trim 63K words?
Even for this guy, that’d be a lot of POVs !
Admittedly, how he does it is probably the wrong question. It’s more useful to consider why Korman chooses to filter different chapters through different characters.
Let’s meet the POV characters…
Jett, the protagonist, who’s determined to get out of the camp (and later, to get to the bottom of the adult campers’ fishy behaviour!)
Grace, the foil, a big believer in the camp, who dislikes Jett at first but eventually allies with him.
Tyrell, the sidekick, who befriends Jett early on.
Brooklynne, a mysterious camper who rarely hangs out with any of the other kids… at first.
Matt, Jett’s reluctant chaperone.
Brandon, a bully and a meathead.
How many chapters does each character get?
The number of POV chapters for each character makes sense given their role in the story. Jett, the protagonist, gets the most. Grace, the female lead, has second most. Next come Tyrell, the sidekick, and Brooklynne, who plays a key role in the second half of the book. Matt and Brandon are outliers. It’s a bit surprising to see characters with only 1 POV chapter, but more on that later!
What’s the order of POVs and why?
The order of POVs really illuminates the story structure. Not only does Jett get the most POVs, Korman ensures the narrative never strays far from him. While there’s not a set pattern, Jett’s POV occurs essentially every third chapter. In the final 9 chapters, Jett takes matters into his own hands, leaving his friends behind to infiltrate an illegal alligator farm one of the camp counselors is running. In this sprint to the climax, with Jett on his own in a life-or-death situation, Korman ensures we get his perspective every second chapter.
Early in the novel, as Korman establishes the setting of the camp, we get a steady diet of Grace alongside Jett. Grace’s commitment to the camp helps us understand its values–and how much Jett doesn’t fit in with those values! Since they have polar opposite views on the camp, Korman also creates conflict right away, before the big mystery about the illegal alligator farm begins to unfold.
Tyrell’s POV is sprinkled relatively evenly throughout. We don’t get him much in the climax sequence, but that makes sense considering he’s a supporting character and not the main star of the story.
Like Tyrell, Brooklynne also has 4 POV chapters, but they don’t start until Chapter 12, which is nearly halfway through the book. This is another way Korman builds mystery in the story. Characters glimpse Brooklynne earlier in the story, and she knows an awful lot about the camp, but she mostly keeps to herself. Naturally, the reader wants to know more about her, and in the second half of the story, Korman fills in the blanks. We eventually learn Brooklynne is the daughter of the camp’s founder. As events escalate in the climax sequence, her proximity to the man in charge makes her an especially important POV, so we see through her eyes almost as much as Jett and Grace down the stretch.
What about the outliers?
But what about Matt and Brandon? They aren’t key characters so why does Korman even bother using them? It’s worth noting where these chapters are positioned. They both occur in roughly the second quarter of the book. As my past posts on the Hero’s Journey plot structure note, that phase of a story is called Tests, Allies, and Enemies. It’s where the protagonist tries to find their footing in a new situation and figure out who’s on their side and who’s not. So, it makes a lot of sense that we get a quick glimpse through the eyes of Matt, who is both an “ally” and an “enemy” as Jett’s chaperone; and Brandon, the bully, who fits squarely in the “enemy” category. Seeing through the eyes of these characters gives us more nuanced insight into Jett himself: Matt knows Jett well and is able to compare how he’s behaving in the “new world” of the camp with how he usually acts. Brandon barely knows Jett, but this is still valuable because we get to see how Jett comes across to strangers on a surface level.
There are no alligator POVs, alas.
As the intensity of the mystery and action ramp up in the 2nd half of the story, we don’t need the perspectives of these minor characters. By this time, Korman knows we’re invested in the main stars and have a good grip on their personalities, so he keeps them in the spotlight.
Sometimes separate POVs create dramatic irony. Sometimes, they are simply logistically necessary, for example, if key characters are in different locations. Korman uses these tactics, but what really electrifies UNPLUGGED for me is the way he uses so many different POVs to throw his protagonist into sharper relief.