Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos

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Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Reviewed by Nigethan Sathiyalingam
Summary: Dead End in Norvelt is a quirky semi-autobiography with some deliciously dark humour that is unfortunately let down by a lack of direction in the plot.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 341 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Yearling Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0440870043

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Meet Jack Gantos. Grounded for the summer after an accident with a Japanese rifle, Jack expected his holiday to be spent doing chores and reading his history books. So when the old people in his off-kilter town suddenly start dropping like flies, he jumps at the chance to be an assistant to Miss Volker, one of the Norvelt originals and a personification of the town's old-fashioned ideals and reverence to history. While faithfully typing up the unique and flavoured obituaries that Miss Volker orates, Jack finds himself learning a lot about the origins of his dying town, about the history of America, about a lot of things in fact, while simultaneously being drawn into the oddest of murder mysteries.

I finished reading Dead End in Norvelt a couple of days ago, but I was left so perplexed that it took me a while to organise my thoughts and write my review. According to the blurb, the book is a: blend of the entirely true and the wildly fictional; I honestly couldn’t distinguish between what was true and what was fictional! From the first scene where Jack meets Miss Volker, where he believes she is melting her hands off, to him going into an old woman's house dressed as the grim reaper to check whether she is dead, the surrealism just doesn't let up.

I found Jack to be a genuinely likeable character. He's an interesting mix of curious and coward, which is compounded by the fact that his nose starts bleeding whenever he is surprised, distressed or worried. I like his relationship with his parents, where his is caught between the fear of his stern mother and a desire to please his slightly distant father, as well as the rapport he builds up with the eccentric Miss Volker.

The characters either side of him aren't as easy to connect with though, perhaps because they are such caricatures that you simply don't know what to make of them. Furthermore, although the story does have its standout comic moments, the plot as a whole didn’t feel cohesive. The growth of Jack as a character was subtle and well done, but the lessons about the importance of history felt too forced. However, the first person narrative still flows really well, not just because the writing is of a solid quality, but because there's a personal feel to it.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you liked Jack Gantos' quirky tale, then you'll likely enjoy Holes by Louis Sachar, another part coming-of-age, part situation comedy with top notch writing.

Booklists.jpg Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2012.

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