Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos won the Newbery Award this year.  The Newbery is the the highest award given in children's literature; it is given to the author of the best children's book.  On a side note, this book also won the Scott O'Dell Award for the best historical fiction.  Now, I have read many Jack Gantos books (the Joey Pigza series are great books for boys with a lot of energy), but I had not read this new book.  Gantos' writing style is definitely prevalent in this book, but what was different about this book is that the main character's name is Jack Gantos.  Jack Gantos the character, as well as the author, grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania called Norvelt.  Dead End in Norvelt is part fiction, part autobiographical, part mystery, and part historical.  There are a lot of different parts in this book that make this a pretty great read.

Though there were a few slow parts here and there it was all in all a well written book that kept me going back for more.  If I was not taking another class right at this moment I probably would've finished this book in a week or less.  I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.  I've actually been a lot happier with the Newbery winners the past 2 years.  Moon Over Manifest, which was the winner last year, was an absolute fabulous book.  Now, you would think that I would love every Newbery since it is given to the very best children's book that year; however, that has not always been the case.  Disappointing I know.

Amazon had the following book description: "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 fiesty 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 launced 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."

I think this is a good book description though it may sound a bit random and/or confusing, At the beginning of the book you, the reader, are intrigued with the story; however, you have no idea where the story is going.  I found the main character, Jack, easy to love b/c he is like a lot of kids.  He's a good kid, but he does some silly, and not so smart things, at times just like most kids do and most of us did.  I did not completely see the surprise mystery at the end, but this book doesn't have a clear and obvious problem/main conflict.  However, I'm not saying that was bad for the story.  It's just that sometimes, I wasn't completely sure where the story was going.  Dead End in Norvelt had many small problems/conflicts throughout the story that kept me interested and they all seem to come together at the end of the story.  I'm sure I'm not explaining this very well, but all in all this was a very enjoyable read.      

Now, if you are wondering what age this would be best for I would say it is a great book for kids in 5th grade or older, but a mature fourth grader would be fine with the book as well.  The main character in this book, Jack, is a boy; therefore, this would be a good book for boys or girls to read.  Jack is a character that boys can relate too b/c he plays baseball and gets grounded for stupid things he does, but he is an all around good boy.  Now, even though the main character is boy I did say it would be a good book for boys or girls.  Usually, a book with a girl main character is much harder for boys to read/want to read.  However, girls will read and enjoy books written with a either a boy or girl main character.  In case you were wondering, this is a clean book, and it would be a fun book to read with your kids.  The whole family could enjoy this book.

All in all, great job Newbery committee; you picked a great winner this year.

On a fun side note, I found this NPR interview with the Gantos.  I learned some fun new things like Gantos was once in jail and he wrote a book about his time spent there.  He is the only Newbery winner to have spent time in jail.  Just a fun new fact for you.    

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