Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
From Goodreads: Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!
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.
Every year as the time approaches for the announcements of the Newbery winners I get all excited. Sometimes, after the announcement I’m still excited. Sometimes, I’m not so excited. This year, I was neither. I had not yet read Dead End in Norvelt when the winners had been announced. Therefore I reserved my reaction until I had a chance to read the book.
What I liked about the book: It’s historical fiction (not too far in the past). Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. Jack is a likeable character. I really liked Ms. Volker. She was quite the feisty older lady. It had a bit of mystery and if you’ve been following my blog you know how I feel about mysteries. The audio version is read by the author. I really like it when that happens. Having the author read the book cuts down on any “missed translations” from the written to spoken word. When the author reads the book it gives the audio version a bit more authenticity.
What I didn’t like about the book: Personally, I didn’t care for many of the adults in the book. (With the exception of Ms. Volker.) Jack’s parents are not exactly fighting, but they do disagree on a few things. Jack gets caught in the middle and even gets grounded for doing what one of them told him to do. The main thing I didn’t like about this book – . (And I’m sure I’ll get lots of negative feed back for this. People seem to think if a book is an award winning book then you are not allowed to NOT like it.) – is that it won the Newbery Award. It was JUST an ok book. Not a bad book, but certainly not comparable to such outstanding Newbery winners like The Giver, Maniac Magee, Holes or The Graveyard Book. To be honest, I’m not sure that my students will actually bother to read the book. It’s not a very exciting read and there doesn’t really seem to be a purpose to the book. Newbery books should be outstanding works of children’s literature that will actually appeal to children.
Of course, I purchased it for the library. I think it’s important for students to be have access to award winning books, even if I don’t agree that they should have won the award. Who knows, maybe my students will like the book.
Recommended for 3rd Grade and up.
AR Book level: 5.7
Mrs. Archer’s rating: 3 of 5.