For a book about a kid being grounded all summer, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, is surprisingly touching and funny. Jack Gantos’ character in the book (yes, he writes about himself), while mischievous, maintained an honest voice throughout the novel, enduring him to me, making me laugh.
Jack helps his elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, write obituaries as she is physically incapable of doing so. An unlikely relationship forms between them. Having an older person in a child’s life is such a gift. Though Jack is skeptical of Miss Volker at first, he comes to realize his great fortune at having her for a mentor. Miss Volker shows Jack what he’s truly capable of and what it means to be a friend.
Somewhat tedious are the history lessons that accompany the obits Jack and Miss Volker write. It wasn’t that the histories weren’t interesting but I wanted to get back to the story and having so many obits written so closely together...it got slow. The history lessons felt like just that -- history lessons. As a kid, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book because of these history bits.
As an adult, I forged through the histories and was rewarded with a satisfying if somewhat far-fetched ending. I enjoyed the caught-in-the-middle relationship Jack has with his parents. He can’t please one without getting in serious trouble with the other. One sympathizes. The town's citizens were colorful and Jack's interactions with them humorous. I laughed out loud several times and recommend this book be read aloud (as it was to me to my great enjoyment).
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011 Pages: 352
Rating: 4 Stars Source: Public Library