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Literature / Masterminds

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Masterminds is a children's book series by Gordon Korman.

Eli Friedman and his friends live in the perfect town: Serenity, New Mexico. Sure, there's only 185 people there, but everyone has a place to work and live, the kids always get whatever they ask for, and there's no crime, violence, or even dishonesty. But when Eli bikes past the city limits with his friend Randy, he becomes majorly ill for no reason—and Randy himself is seemingly forced to move out. Along with Malik, Tori, Hector, and Amber, who also begin to notice oddities about their town, Eli tries to figure out what's going on—and discovers nothing about Serenity can be trusted, especially their parents.

The second book, Criminal Destiny, deals with Eli and his group after their escape from Serenity as they try to avoid capture and figure out what to do about their situation. A third book, Payback, concludes the trilogy and deals with everyone trying to find and rescue the kids they left behind in Serenity.

This book series contains examples of:

  • Break the Cutie: Hector, one of the nicest kids, learns that not only is he a cloned criminal, the people picked as his parents don't love him and only see his DNA as valuable.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hector first notices something weird about Serenity when he realizes their prized traffic cones are dusty. Later, they realize this means that they don't actually make traffic cones and just drive the same ones around every day.
  • Cloning Blues: All of the kids suffer this as they learn they're clones of criminals, but Eli suffers it the worst due to apparently being cloned from a serial killer.
  • Fish out of Water: Growing up in a Gilded Cage of a town and having their social media monitored and sanitized, the kids are completely oblivious to the ins and outs of the real world.
    Tori: There's a lot of discussion about a person called The Bachelor. I think he might be in the government. Also Starbucks - that's a restaurant in Pueblo. It must be super-fancy, because all the things you can order have these long foreign names. Oh, and zombies. We haven't figured out what those are yet. Jewelry, maybe.
  • Gambit Roulette: The kids find out that their escape was allowed as a favor to a criminal who funded the project with the expectation that one or more clones would break him out of prison. That was a gamble on the actions and skills of children not yet born. Someone in the project must have also been a master at Xanatos Speed Chess to feed them clues leading to their escape.
  • In-Series Nickname: The Surety, Serenity's police squad, are called Purple People Eaters due to their purple uniforms.
  • Meaningful Name: Everything in Serenity, including the kids' names, has to do with a positive virtue like harmony, brotherhood, or contentment.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Randy Cardaway. Had Randy not convinced Eli to go to the edge of town with him, Eli would have never fallen ill and none of the clones would have ever found out the truth about Project Osiris.
  • The Stool Pigeon: In the second book Hector becomes this due to fear for his life.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: It's increasingly obvious that Serenity is this. The secret turns out to be that Eli and 10 other kids are clones of notorious criminals, raised in a safe environment to determine what made someone bad.