Charles Wallace didn’t speak until the age of four – but then he started busting out complete, adult sentences. Oh yeah, and he can read minds. That’s all.
9. Matilda, Matilda
Matilda was so smart that her considerable brainpower flowed over into psychokinesis, allowing her to cause all kind of havoc. She wasn’t so smart that a few big kid books didn’t solve the problem, but still, we call prodigy!
8. Lyra Belacqua, The Golden Compass
Lyra Silvertongue, as she is known by the armored bears, is 12 at the beginning of Pullman’s classic trilogy. At that age, she learns to read the alethiometer – a mysterious device that the greatest scholars can only decipher with massive manuals, then fools the un-foolable king of the bears and figures out her mother’s evil plot. You could, we suppose, argue that she is a savant – that her genius is limited to the aletheiometer – but we would suggest that a girl who can rally all the forces of good in a cosmic war around her simply by her nature is a genius of a special kind.
7. Oskar Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
All you need to know is that this is what 9-year-old Oskar hands out to new people by means of introduction:
6. Ruprecht Van Doren, Skippy Dies
Ruprecht, the eponymous Skippy’s donut-loving roommate, dabbles in string theory, is obsessed with figuring out what happened before the Big Bang, and excels at the tuba, like any good child genius should. He also builds an almost-functioning portal into another dimension. Sure, it doesn’t work, but what normal kid even thinks of that?
5. T.S. Spivet, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet
T.S. Spivet (as in Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet, a name that only a genius could have) is a 12-year-old amateur cartographer and scientific researcher, whose mind splays out across the pages of this book as he interprets his whole world through the process of mapping. He is also into etymology, anatomy, and mournfully overanalyzing his parents’ behavior.
4. Ender Wiggin, Ender’s Game
Ender Wiggin was born into a talented family. His brother Peter would have saved the world instead of him, but he was too aggressive. His sister Valentine could have done it, but she was too mild. They all had the brains, but only Ender had the personality. It seems that getting beaten up and intimidated by your sibling makes you ready to lead in Battle School. So, the prepubescent Ender saves the world from Alien invasion, working out a strategy no one else has been able to conceive of. And then Peter becomes President of the World. Those are some good genes, there.
3. Gurion Maccabee, The Instructions
Adam Levin’s Gurion is a strangely adept martial artist, a devout and studied Israelite and author of what he at least deems scripture, and somehow possessed of the ability to bamboozle teachers and coerce hundreds of young men to do his will. Oh yes, and also he may or may not be the Messiah.
2. Hal Incandenza, Infinite Jest
Oh, Hal. The youngest of the Incandenza clan, and arguably the protagonist of Wallace’s doorstop, a tennis prodigy who memorizes the Oxford English Dictionary and whose preferred schoolyard game is based on geopolitical nuclear strategy and advanced math.
1. Seymour Glass, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” et al.
Seymour, like the rest of Salinger’s absurdly advanced Glass family, was a little beyond. An experimental poet and sometime philosopher, he got his PhD in his teens and soon after got a job as an English professor at Columbia University. He was also tragic, which sometimes happens with geniuses, and mostly unable to interact with other people. The price of singularity.
Any genius kids we missed? Let us know in the comments!