Author: Jack Gantos
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); First Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
Description: 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.
My Thoughts: It is hard to know how to describe this story. It is supposed to be a melding of events that are entirely true and wildly fictional. I, for one, have no idea which were which. This is historical fiction taking place in the summer of 1962 about a young boy named Jack Gantos in a poor Pennsylvania town. The town was almost a character in this novel. Norvelt was created and begun by Eleanor Roosevelt as a way for the poor to get homes. Now the town is dying and so are the elderly residents. This dying town is a source of conflict between Jack's parents. His mom is a life-long resident and doesn't want to leave. She embraces the lifestyle and the ideals that founded the town. His dad wants to move a way to get, as he says, "a bigger slice of the pie." His dad is convinced that the town is dead and sensible people leave.
Jack is caught in between this summer that he turns twelve. After a loaded gun incident and a "mowing down the corn that his mother has planted to feed the hungry to build the fallout shelter (or runway) his father wants." young Jack is grounded - perhaps for life. His only escape is when his mother lends him out to an elderly neighbor. Miss Volker is crippled by arthritis and needs Jack's help. She is also one of the original residents of Norvelt and was charged by Mrs. Roosevelt to be the nurse and medical examiner for the community. Miss Volker is determined to keep her promise to Mrs. Roosevelt to stay until the last original resident is gone. She has taken it upon herself to write obituaries for each of the elderly residents as they die. She needs Jack to do the writing and then type them up on her old typewriter. Miss Volker also adds history - both of the town and of the world - to each obituary.
When Jack isn't with Miss Volker, he is usually in his room reading his collection of Landmark biographies and reflecting on them, or, he is digging in the yard for his father's fallout shelter. Jack also is plagued by very frequent nose bleeds. Any time there is any stress or excitement, Jack's nose bleeds. His parents are too poor to have the doctor fix the problem - and he won't barter for the service as Jack's mom hopes. But Miss Volker has a plan that involves surgery on her kitchen table.
This was a quiet book that was filled with lots of quotable text and arresting images. What it wasn't filled with was much action. It reads to me as a quiet but sort-of weird, old-fashioned story of a slice of pretty ordinary life. Jack is an interesting and thoughtful observer of the events around him. But even his best friend Bunny Huffer thinks he is sort of weird.
I'm not sure what sort of reader that I could give this to. I think that it might make an appealing read-aloud title with a teacher leading the discussion about that time in history.
"Even the devil wears clean underpants," she said, pointing the threatening tip of the hot iron at my skimpy towel. "And put on clean socks, pants, a belt, an undershirt, comb your hair, brush your teeth, and put on your shoes, and when you do all of that I'll be waiting at the door with your perfectly ironed white shirt and then you can leave the house."I received this ARC from Ksenia at Macmillan for review. You can get your copy here.
"How do you remember all that stuff?" I asked over my shoulder as I ran back down the hall.
"I have it memorized," she shouted behind me, "because I'm forced to say it every day of your animal boy life!"