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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

From Norvelt to Nowhere (Norvelt #2) by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos is a terrific storyteller, entertainer, and teacher. He came to our school captivating students from ages 5-18 years old adjusting his lessons and zany stories for each age.  Some stories were doozers that left us with side stitches and tears of laughter such as dropping a cockroach into the sleeping mouth of his sister who got him back by locking him naked out of the house. Or skateboarding off a roof into a pool. Or maybe it was a toboggan. Or bike. After meeting Mr. Gantos it is easy to see the blending of character trait's in the fictional Gantos and the real Gantos. He's a hoot. And an amazing writer. I started to keep a writer's notebook after Gantos visited our school because he talked about the importance of writing everyday and basically inspired me to get back to writing. Six years later I have more notebooks full than I can count and I've rediscovered the fun of writing, something I lost after years of schooling. You need to read the first Norvelt book, "Dead End in Norvelt," in order to understand this story. Don't read beyond this paragraph because my review gives away an important plot twist from book one. 

This story picks up with Jack tactlessly dressing up as Spizz Jr. for Halloween. Bunny, his friend, talked him into it and Jack is pretty good at following people versus thinking on his own. Spizz was accused of murdering old women and the town is still recovering from the murders where he poisoned people with Girl Scout Cookies. Spizz has not been caught and it looks like he is back in town wanting to marry Miss Volker. Jack flees with Miss Volker to New York to write an obituary about Eleanor Roosevelt who just died and founded the town. Jack is Miss Volker's apprentice and typer because her hands are crippled from arthritis.  Once in New York, they discover Miss Volker's sister died and they have to go to Florida for her funeral. Mayhem and adventure happens on their trip south. Nothing is what it seems in this twisted mystery. 

The unreliable narrator, Jack, disappoints his mother in the first book and it continues in this sequel. Except she's disappointed in him reading comic books instead of classic novels. The author weaves this throughout the story with Miss Volker calling him an idiot for reading his comics and not learning the classic story in its entirety. This poking fun at a genre that has always gotten a bad wrap for not being "literary" is funny because it is obvious that Jack does get most of it and he acts more level-headed than Miss Volker who is acting crazy in this sequel. 

Miss Volker's over the top behavior is supposed to mirror the split personality of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or the vengeance-driven Captain Ahab, except she calls herself Mrs. Captain Ahab. She's determined to kill Spizz at the cost of her human side and at times she scares Jack with her crazy talk. Jack thinks about how Jekyll and Hyde exist in all of us throughout the story; he determines that there is good and bad in everyone and it comes down to the choices made that are important and being true to oneself. He's a doofus though. He falls into a septic tank that he thinks is a bomb shelter. He gives his shoes to a person because they are dirty and runs around in his stockings, and on it goes. Jack is a great unreliable narrator who is missing a common sense gene, but who means well. He's endearing and real.
 
Gantos loves history and incorporates these aspects into his carefully crafted stories. He also inspires me to improve my writing, especially writing metaphors. I started copying them down, quickly realizing I'd be copying the whole book after the first few chapters. Miss Volker gives history lessons that tie in with famous people who changed their minds for the better and as a result changed the course of history. Lincoln changed his mind about slaves, but he enforced Indian reservations. Jack thinks of this as a Jekyll and Hyde trait in Lincoln. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) when the black woman, Marion Anderson, was banned from singing at their headquarters. Eleanor arranged for her to sing at the Lincoln Memorial and more people heard her than if she had sung at the DAR convention. These two people worked for equality and made the United States a better place. They made themselves better people. Jack decides that this is what is important in life.

The reader sees Jack become a better person as he travels with Miss Volker. He worries about her obsession over solving the Norvelt murders and bloodthirsty ways. Jack changes in that he stops following and slowly speaks his mind and ironically shows a maturity in his thinking. He cares about Miss Volker and looks out for her. He still has his unquestioning moments like digging a grave when she asks him to. While he doesn't figure out much of the mystery, he does think about being a better person and he feels more responsible toward her. 

The author poignantly shows the Jack's parents as two people who obviously love each other but are very different. His mom is level-headed while his dad is a dreamer, pulling pranks with his plane or dropping roses from it for his mom. Jack's dad can't stay put in one place and the mom is sometimes irritated by it but for the most part understands that this is who he is and accepts his eccentricity. This book has bloody noses and death, just like the first book. Bring your tissue box. Enjoy.

4 Smileys

1 comment:

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