DEAD END IN NORVELT
by Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus Giroux 2011
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.
Why kids will love it - Jack is fun! His summer is doomed after he is grounded, but he still manages to have adventures with his new best friend Miss Volker. The crazy things these two cook up (literally and figuratively) while writing obituaries and driving around Norvelt are at times hilarious. Kids will also relate to Jack's parents pulling him in two directions, but still being a loving family. Kids that love history will enjoy the bits and pieces of US and World history that are interspersed throughout the book.
What I learned as a writer - Writing historical fiction not only requires lots of research, but needs to be written in an entertaining way, because of either the context or the history that is shown. Jack's story is also a great example of writing in first person. Because he spends time alone or running errands by himself, knowing his inner thoughts and ideas is crucial to the story. Seeing the family dynamics though his eyes really bring the reader into the story.
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