Susie's Reviews > Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
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Mar 25, 12

Read in March, 2012

I adored this book, and was sorry when it was over. Somewhere (twitter? titletalk? a listserv?) I heard a recommendation for the audio book, read by Gantos, and was so glad that I experienced it that way. Even the title works on so many different levels. I was a huge proponent for Okay for Now for the Newbery, but I can now see why this won. There are interesting parallels between the two books: male main character in the '60's, important relationship with a much-older non-family member who imparts a lot of wisdom and draws out talent, and somewhat convoluted endings that included things I could have done without.

I have read reviews that complained about history being somewhat twisted in the book, but any child's recollections would have similar disparities. I found myself looking up Norvelt, Antony and Cleopatra, and several other references in the book. And, what was that UFO? (I looked it up.) I created notes via evernote for things I wanted to look up when I was finished.

Gantos has such a way with words and humor. I wonder how many people on the roads looked at me with suspicion as I was laughing out loud as I listened in the car. Images of Miss Volker cooking her hands, dialing the phone with her toes, cauterizing Jack's nose, Mr. Spizz on a tricycle, and Jack passing gas to save a deer were just a few of the great images Gantos paints. You can tell that Gantos took time to write and rewrite to get the phrases just right, such as, "I wiped Mr. Spizz out of my mind just as quickly as I wiped the blood away on the back of my hand". I have seen a fascinating video of Gantos talking about his journaling and writing style via teachingbooks.net, and appreciate the process that he uses.

While I don't necessarily agree with all of Gantos's views (and I would ask students: How much of Miss Volker's views do you think are really Gantos'?), I learned so much from this book. I wish students would get an appreciation of history as demonstrated by Jack. To me, the obituaries were often a highlight. They reinforce the idea that "Everyone Has a Story", a feature I enjoy on the CBS Evening News with Steve Hartman. Too many of these stories are at risk of being lost. Will today's children have such interesting, varied lives? Their hardships are often quite different than what these Norvelters experienced. Coincidentally, a 90-year-old patron of many arts who rose from poverty to ultimately become a millionaire died this week in Indianapolis, and when I read her actual obituary, I was reminded of the book.

I would have liked to know more about the Hell's Angels. They can't be too happy about their portrayal in the book. Would you send a Girl Scout out alone at 10 pm to watch for arsonists?

Even though I have my qualms about a few elements, I thought this was a wonderful book, one that I will remember well.
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