Newbery Medal Winner: Dead End in Norvelt
2/14/2012 9:50:00 AM
This year’s Newbery Medal winner, Dead End in Norvelt, like most Jack Gantos novels, is quirky, funny and, of course, like no other book out there.
Meet the town of Norvelt: a place nobody really wants to live anymore. Whether dying or moving away, Norvelt residents are leaving the town in droves.
Meet Jack Gantos. He’s about to start what he expects to be a spectacular summer full of baseball, exploring and playing with his dad’s cool military gear. But all that is ruined when Jack accidentally fires his father’s rifle and is grounded for the entire vacation. On top of this, Jack’s mother decides to lend Jack out to Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor who needs some assistance. Can it get any worse?
However, the task Miss Volker has in mind is a bit more exciting than weeding an old lady’s vegetable garden. She happens to be the town’s medical examiner AND obituary writer, so every time an elderly resident kicks the dust, she requires Jack’s assistance. Suddenly this “task” seems a little more exciting than sitting in a room for the summer. And, fortunately for Jack, Norveltians are dying at an alarming rate, giving him an excuse to leave the house just about every day. Although, in time, all this dying begins to arouse suspicions among the town’s remaining residents, especially the nosy police officer, Mr. Spizz. Could there be a murderer on the loose?
With plenty of bloody noses, dead bodies, motorcycle gangs, history lessons, airplanes, mysterious circumstances and new friendships, Dead End in Norvelt is one wild ride from start to finish.
Only Jack Gantos can pull off a book like Norvelt. He has a certain way of making the macabre and absurd come across as funny and intriguing for kids and adults alike. We might be a little hesitant at first, but Gantos inevitably wins us over, and before long we come to embrace the oddity of his story; we wouldn’t want it any other way. One thing so distinctive about a Gantos book is voice, and Norvelt is no exception. There is a near satirical edge to the book’s tone that is nicely balanced by its heart. Not surprisingly, Gantos also does a superb job capturing the character of Jack. There is something genuine yet amusing in how Jack looks at the world, and his words and thoughts are quintessentially “11-year-old boy.”
But ultimately, what lies at the core of Novelt is the friendship between Jack and Miss Volker. It’s an odd match, to say the least, but somehow Miss Volker and Jack find a sense of companionship with one another that they can’t find with anyone else. Turns out, they have more in common than one would think.
Chock full of laugh-out loud moments, I couldn’t put the book down. I’ll admit, I’ve always been a Gantos fan, but Dead End in Norvelt is my favorite of all of his books. While I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen it to win the Newbery Medal, I certainly do consider it a very worthy contribution to children’s literature.
Make sure to pick this one up for your 10-12 year old son. I can almost guarantee he’ll be laughing out loud before you know it.
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