Masterminds by Gordon Korman is a young adult book about children raised in an idyllic small town in the American Southwest, who discover that they are clones of some of the worst criminal masterminds in contemporary America. The book switches POV from chapter to chapter between the kids (Eli, Tori, Malik, Hector and Amber) as they discover new facts and figure out who they can (each other) and cannot (everyone else) trust.
The idea behind this experiment is to figure out whether nature or nurture is ultimately to blame in how people turn out. The head of this experiment pretends to be the father of one of the kids, Eli. Eli had always considered his relationship with his single father to be close and based on honesty, so, the discovery that his father is the one behind the experiment, makes his sense of betrayal is absolute. Other kids feel just as betrayed, while one or two have some realizations about things their parents had said or done over the years that now make more sense.
The experiment itself, Osiris, had been deemed unethical by several institutional boards, but the experiment head had found private backing and decided to go ahead with the experiment under the radar. He cloned and the raised the children in an environment freed of negative influences, down to claiming that the US was founded because of the Boston Tea Party, a very civilized affair where the colonists and British talked things over calmly before deciding to let America have its independence. The children are carefully monitored regarding their behavior concerning greed and violence. The only sport allowed in town is Water Polo.
Not all of the kids are likable, even as you read in their voices. Some are very likable, some are annoying as crap, but they all read as kids tossed into a situation far outside their control and understanding. One of the boys, Malik, discovers that thanks to his antis0cial behavior (taking too many cookies when left on the honor system at snack time and being too aggressive during water polo) that he is due to be “weeded out” as a toxic influence. Ultimately, they decide to leave town to save Malik and to try to figure out who they really are. First, though, they have to figure out how to get away when a mysterious force makes those of them who are the result of the experiment deathly ill and pass out.
The book is well paced, the story is engaging, and even the unlikable characters are interesting to read. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series.