Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Jack had big summer plans which end when he gets grounded for mowing down his mom's corn, even though is dad told him to do it!  Now Jack is stuck in the house.  The only time he gets to leave is to help Miss Volker write obituaries.  And there are a suspicious amount of obituaries to write.  Is someone knocking off little old ladies in Jack's quite little town?

Dead End in Norvelt was the winner of the 2011 Newbery Medal.  While it didn't have the same mind blowing quality of a When You Reach Me, it was a great book.  Dead End in Norvelt is semi-autobiographical, and it isn't clear how much of it really happened to Jack Gantos and what he made up.

Jack is a dorky little kid. He likes reading and history and his nose bleeds whenever he gets upset or too excited.   There aren't a lot of kids in his small town.  The town is dying.  Jack's best friend is Bunny, and she's a total jerk to him.  She goes out of her way to try to scare him and make his nose bleed.  Jack lets people take advantage of him.  He constantly finds himself in bad situations, and they're usually not of his making.

Jack's dad is a bit of jerk too.  His dad was more of a kid than Jack was, really.  He seemed to have no qualms about doing stuff that he knew would have consequences for Jack (but not for him) and did them anyway.  That's how Jack ended up grounded for a whole summer.  Jack's dad isn't around very much though, and Jack is desperate to spend time with him and impress him, so he does whatever he says.  It's 1962, and Jack's father wants nothing more than to move out of Norvelt which he feels is full of communists.  Communists to him seem to be people who try and make sure all the old people have enough food.

Then there's Miss Volker, who lives down the street and is one of the original members of the two-hundred and fifty families that founded Norvelt.  She was made the chief nurse and medical examiner of the town by Eleanor Roosevelt herself and therefore Miss Volker will never leave Norvelt until the last original Norvelt founder has died.  She's quite the character.  She cooks her hands in hot wax to help her arthritis, gives Jack a nose operation (a minor one) to make his nose stop bleeding and doesn't suffer fools kindly.

What made this book special was Jack's voice.  Jack was a thinker, and really did want to do the right thing, but he's a kid and sometimes made stupid decisions.  Jack reads his history books about people coming in a taking other people's land and killing people and people wiping other people out.  He finally figures out that it's OK to make mistakes.  It's when you keep doing the same dumb thing over and over again that it's a problem.

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