DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos was selected to receive the John Newbery Medal from the American Library Association (ALA) for the "most outstanding contribution to children's literature."
Back in the fall I read and reviewed DEAD END IN NORVELT for Kidsreads.com and gave it five stars--the highest rating I can give for a book.
Gantos' novel has so much going for it, I don't know where to begin, so I'll summarize my review.
DEAD END IN NORVELT is part autobiography and part historical fiction, with some mystery and suspense thrown in for good measure. The setting is 1962 in Norvelt, Pennsylvania. The main character is twelve-year-old Jack Gantos, who has a problem. When he gets startled, excited or scared, his nose bleeds. And during the summer of 1962, there are lots of exciting and frightening events happening in Jack’s hometown. After he accidentally fires a live bullet from his dad's Japanese sniper's rifle, he gets in big trouble. To redeem himself he agrees to help Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor, with a special project.
Because of his Miss Volker's arthritis--and her promise to Eleanor Roosevelt--Jack helps type obituaries of the original residents of the town, which was established during the New Deal. During the summer an increasing number of original residents die, and Jack wonders if something sinister is going on in his home town.
While typing the obituaries, he also learns about how each resident has impacted the town. Besides Jack and Miss Volker, there are some strange residents in Norvelt, including his own parents, who are a study in contrasts of the era. His dad is a World War II vet who wants to leave Norvelt, while at the same time preparing for a Russian invasion from the Commies. His mom loves her community and wants to stay.
Without giving too much away, I'll add that Gantos uses a gentle touch to weave twentieth century American history into the story line along with wonderfully wacky scenes, delightfully memorable characters, and a mystery to boot.
You can read my entire review on the Kidsreads.com website.