Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: From Norvelt to Nowhere

Title: From Norvelt to Nowhere
Author: Jack Gantos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 278
Review Copy: Library
Availabilty: On shelves now

Summary: This rocket-paced follow-up to the Newbery Medal–winning novel Dead End in Norvelt opens deep in the shadow of the Cuban missile crisis. But instead of Russian warheads, other kinds of trouble are raining down on young Jack Gantos and his utopian town of Norvelt in western Pennsylvania. After an explosion, a new crime by an old murderer, and the sad passing of the town’s founder, twelve-year-old Jack will soon find himself launched on a mission that takes him hundreds of miles away, escorting his slightly mental elderly mentor, Miss Volker, on her relentless pursuit of the oddest of outlaws. But as their trip turns south in more ways than one, it’s increasingly clear that the farther from home they travel, the more off-the-wall Jack and Miss Volker’s adventure becomes, in From Norvelt to Nowhere, a raucous road novel about roots and revenge, a last chance at love, and the power of a remarkable friendship. -- Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: I laughed my way through Dead End in Norvelt multiple times, so I had expectations of some humor. They were certainly satisfied. Once again, Jack Gantos manages to pull together bizarre and amazingly funny situations throughout the novel. I would recommend that people read Dead End in Norvelt first, but Gantos does provide a bit of review in the beginning in case readers have forgotten some of the first book or haven't read it.

I was disappointed that Jack's best friend dresses up as an Indian for Halloween. It is something that children do, but with all of the many costumes that could be chosen, I just wished that a different choice had been made. That was a negative for me, but Gantos did win points when the topic of Abraham Lincoln came up. Miss Volker spews history and she doesn't only tell the boring, sanitized textbook type of information. She brings up some of the aspects of people's lives that people may typically ignore or gloss over so that hero status is maintained. Lincoln ordered thirty-eight Sioux men hanged in 1862. That isn't something that elementary students or even older students always get taught, but Jack learns about it from Miss Volker. Reading this book could really turn students on to history because Miss Volker tells about people with their warts and all. She even shares about FDR cheating on his wife.

Seeing two sides of people is a major theme that comes up over and over along the way. Jack sees many examples of this starting with the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde classic comic he reads near the beginning of their road trip. Jack notices that he himself seems to bounce back and forth and the adults around him, especially Miss Volker, are also fighting this type of battle inside.

The mystery that began in the first novel continues in From Norvelt to Nowhere kept me reading. I still wanted to know for sure who killed all those ladies back in Norvelt. Before the crime is solved, Jack gets naked, harpoons are launched, and all kinds of mayhem ensues. The humor and the juicy bits of history make this book a lot of fun. It seemed a bit more complex and more of a middle school book than the first, so I am not sure how many of my elementary students are going to rip through this one though many fifth graders enjoyed Dead End in Norvelt. I really appreciate that Gantos is able to write historical fiction that can bring a smile to your face since so many are about war and serious subjects. Books like these from Gantos can help to show students a more lively view of history.

I am looking forward to book talking From Norvelt to Nowhere and hearing back from my students.

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