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 feisty 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 launched 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. – Goodreads
Add another to the list of class-required reading! Newbery Medal books pretty much never disappoint, and a lot of them actually end up being a part of our larger cultural narrative (The Giver, anyone?). Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed my first required novel, at least not at first. I loved Miss Volker and the snappy dialogue, but any book that’s written in dialect or dated slang is not my taste. Since this book was set in the 1960s, the dated slang is out of control, and it drove me crazy reading it. The plot and narrative, however, are definitely deserving of their Newbery Award, and as the story went on, I started getting more and more into the story.
Jack Gantos lives in poverty in what was once a Utopian-esque town set up by Eleanor Roosevelt. His father is a war veteran who is frequently away for work (and refers to everyone as “Commies”) and his mother spends her time making food for the needy. They cannot afford a $3 ticket, and they certainly can’t afford a medical procedure for Jack’s mysterious and frequent nosebleeds. Jack is grounded for the summer, only allowed to leave his room to help Miss Volker write obituaries for town residents. There are all sorts of weird things happening around Norvelt though, and Jack is caught up in them despite his eternal grounding.
Miss Volker had my heart because she was a feminist with anarchist leanings, but I really grew to love Jack. Witty, bloody-nosed Jack, grounded for life, afraid of dead people, lover of books and war movies. His adventures and growth made this book such a fun read, and the mystery of it all helped too. This book fully deserved its award, as all Newbery winners do. It’s a quirky little read that might take some getting used to at first, but it’s worth anyone’s while to do so.