Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, a review

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, a review
Published in 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Middle grade historical

Not till I got to the end of this book did I realize how autobiographical it was.  It features a 12-year-old boy, Jack, in the most bizarre of towns with the most bizarre friendships imaginable.  How could all this bizarreness be true, more or less?

What isn’t true is the actual story, a whodunit sort of yarn told with the unique voice of sassy young Jack, interacting with his impossible parents and other adults. The result is hilarious and unique. In fact, this book won the Newbery Award for 2012.

Norvelt, Pennsylvania, is a town started by Eleanor Roosevelt to house poor families. (Eleanor Roosevelt was a first lady who got all kinds of good projects going.) But, many decades later, the town looks to be on its last legs as the remaining original old ladies are aging. When they die, their unique houses are carted off to another Rooseveltian village somewhere else. The town is fading. In short, it’s a good place to leave.

After an episode with an antique rifle, Jack finds himself grounded for the summer. With no fun in sight, he takes a job as the personal assistant of Miss Volker, one of the last original Norvelters, whose hands are crippled. She needs his help writing obituaries for the old ladies as they die off. Finally someone notices that the old ladies are dying at an unnatural rate. What could be wrong? Who might be to blame?

This book is full of odd and unique characters. Jack’s hilarious replies to those around him, and his thoughts, keep it all stitched together. I highly recommend this book.

Five stars * * * * *

Note: I consumed this as an audiobook, read by the author.

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