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Thursday, June 14, 2012

DEAD END IN NORVELT

Most summers, I do a ton of reading. I read children's literature, so that I will have fresh stuff to share the next year. I catch up on my professional books. I read a few of the adult books I've been wanting to read. This summer, ummmm, not so much.  Not sure exactly what I have been doing instead…

OK, I do kind of know what I have been doing. I've been taking classes-- a district Technology Camp, a workshop on the Common Core Standards, and a terrific two-day institute hosted by the Colorado Language Arts Society, who brought in Kelly Gallagher on Thursday and Donalyn on Friday. And then lots of kid stuff…

Last weekend, for example, I accompanied Son #1 to a football camp in Phoenix.  While I was there, I finished this year's Newbery, DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos. I gotta be honest. I am generally not a huge fan of the Newbery books. I was not that excited about reading it. I kind of half expected not to like it.

DEAD END IN NORVELT is the semi-autobiographical story of a kid named Jack, growing up in the small town of Norvelt (named after EleaNOR RooseVELT). When the book opens, Jack is looking forward to a summer of baseball and fun with friends. Unfortunately, on the first day of summer vacation, he somehow manages to fire his father's Japanese rifle, and ends up grounded for the whole summer. As part of his punishment, his mother loans him out to an elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, a retired nurse, and the current town coroner. Arthritis has crippled her hands to the extent that she is no longer able to write the obituaries for Norvelt's elderly citizens, who seem to be dying at an alarmingly regular rate. Jack's job is to act as her scribe.

This initial premise seems like the book might be a little slow-moving. The book, however, is anything but slow. First, an endless string of quirky characters, including Jack's father, who is restoring a plane in his barn and orders Jack to mow down Mrs. Gantos' cornfield so that he can build a runway; Jack's best friend Bunny, daughter of the Norvelt's undertaker, and Mr. Spizz- an elderly policeman who has been trying to court Miss Volker for fifty years.

In addition to the quirky characters, the book is filled with an endless series of surprising, (and often graphically gross) events- and nose bleeds, paraffin strips, rat poison, and run over, flat as a pancake Hell's Angels- definitely enough to capture the attention of a fifth or sixth grade reader, especially a boy. Finally, I was totally surprised by the ending, even though later I wondered why I hadn't seen it coming.

A surprisingly satisfying and fun read…

2 comments:

Mary Lee said...

My reading has slowed to a creeping pace this past week, too. Funny how little reading you get done when you are helping your mom go through closets and drawers and doing all the cooking and shopping and cleaning (with brother, but still...)! Looking forward to getting back to my own schedule!

PS--Doesn't look like there will be a bonus trip to Denver this year. Mom kept us really busy, and time with her is the best 85th birthday gift we can give. (A gift we give to ourselves, too, knowing our time with her is not unlimited.)

Linda at teacherdance said...

Hi Carol, I still haven't read Dead End either, haven't heard a lot of talk about it so kind of ignored it. Now I'll try to get it read, as I'm trying to read more MG books because I lean too much to the YA ones. Thanks for the review. Sorry Mary Lee can't come to Denver! I hope we can still meet some time for coffee. And, I didn't know about the Gallagher/Miller LA conference. That would have been great.