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Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year's best contribution to children's literature and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

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.


First line:
"School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting read for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it."

To be entirely honest, I can't figure out why this won the Newberry. That's what I thought as I read DEAD END IN NORVELT. I totally understand why it was picked for the Scott O'Dell award. Set in the sixties, this story is filled with reminders of the year but not with info dumping. The storytelling is very clever this way. Lots of history in this book.
Poor Jack is surrounded by people who are not nice to him. His parents use him to do things so the other won't get mad at the other. For instance, his dad wants a runway. His mom has planted corn to help feed the poor people in Norvelt. The dad tells Jack to plow over the corn. He does, gets in trouble with Mom and is grounded. 
His BFF is a girl named Bunny. She's the daughter of the mortician. Bunny's mad at Jack for getting grounded and tells him he's not a true friend if he can't show up at a baseball game. She also tortures him with talk of dead people even though she knows it scares him to death. Once, she even made him touch a corpse. What kind of friend does that??
Jack seems to be the only sane/normal/human character. He actually thinks, knows right from wrong, stays in his room when grounded and tries to be good. 
 The book was interesting, filled with random history tidbits. Boys will enjoy it.

Rating: PG
V: Hell's Angels burn down houses, people die or are killed
L: non-swearing swearing
S: No

Liked:
A book for boys!
History lesson without shoving it in your face
The obituaries

Disliked:
Jack's relationships
Moralizing

3 1/2 STARS

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