Monday, April 2, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt
By Jack Gantos
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011
352 pages (hardcover)

Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year's best contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is "grounded for life" by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack's way once his mom loans him out to help a fiesty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launced on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air. (from

The Newbery Medal is a prestigious award, but there have been several times that, in my opinion, the stories have only been so-so. I mean, they are ok, but not GREAT. Now, I won’t say Dead End in Norvelt  is the best book I have ever read or even the best Newbery I have ever read, but it was enjoyable and worthy of the award.

I mean, this is a silly book about and awkward boy, his crazy quarrelling parents, and a bunch of eccentric old people (and who doesn’t LOVE reading about eccentric old people who do wild and random things?). According to information on the book, this is a mix of Jack Gantos’s real life and what his imagination concocted along the way. It’s about a young boy growing up and learning about what it means to be a community and how people can have an influence on others.

Readers be warned: young Jack makes a lot of bad decisions. Usually this annoys me. I just want to scream at the characters, “Why are you doing that?! You KNOW it will turn out bad.” But I didn’t want to scream at young Jack. For all the unwise decisions young Jack makes, he lets the readers into his train of thought and although the decisions aren’t the best, it makes sense that he does what he does. Of course, this is the thought process of a 12-year-old boy so you never know where it will go.

I picked this book up because I wanted something light and fun to read. I’d read quite a few serious books and an enjoyable tale is just what I needed. And this is definitely a tale of epic proportions. Well done Jack Gantos!

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