Minli's Reviews > Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
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's review
Mar 09, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: middle-grade, historical

I am bitter about this win because I really thought A MONSTER CALLS would win everything (and deservedly so). Still, more and more I think the Newbery medal is merely political. More often than not, there's an Americana element, and in the last few years the trend has been small towns/rural settings and about a past era. Last year, Manifest, this year, Norvelt!

Dead End in Norvelt is the semi-autobiographical story of Jack Gantos's life one summer. He's grounded because his parents first thought he shot his dad's Japanese souvenir rifle (why the gun was loaded--or why he would even have access to it! is a mystery) and then because he mowed over his mother's corn (though his dad told him to... so?) But his parents will allow him one chore--to help out eighty-year-old Mrs. Volker, who has the most peculiar task: she's writing the obituaries of all the original Norveltians, a task assigned to her by the great Eleanor Roosevelt. And she must OUTLIVE THEM ALL so she can write everyone's obituaries, so will the last two old people just croak please?

There are definitely funny moments, and I liked the off-kilter personalities of some of the characters. Jack's parents were ridiculous, and Mrs. Volker was appropriately cuckoo. What worked less well were the moralizing moments (let's learn history to make sure we don't repeat history's mistakes!) and the random anecdotes which seemed to just beef up the "educational" element.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Karen There does seem to be this Americana trend to some extent. I remember Bud, Not Buddy, and Peck's A Year down Under and it's sequel--all had the examination of small town origins, etc. But, there were others not Americana-based: Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, and When You Reach Me--for examples. It could also be that since the books have to be published in America, we get that narrower focus in the writings. I haven;t gotten the latest Newbery so I will have to read it!

Minli But then you get to the criticism of "books that librarians want kids to read" vs "books that kids actually want to read." I haven't read Good Masters, Sweet Ladies but it sounds way more like the former.

As an aside, I adore When You Reach Me. That was the same year Where the Mountain Meets the Moon got a Newbery Honor--and the year before that The Graveyard Book. I'm not saying there's an Americana bias, but it does seem to be a common theme among the winners.

Karen I liked the fact that When You Reach Me was a tribute to A Wrinkle in Time--and I also really liked The Graveyard Book! I haven't read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

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