Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Audiobook Review: Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos

The Dead End in Norvelt audiobook along for the ride on my commute.
Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. 2011. Macmillian Audio. Audiobook $29.99. ISBN 9781427213563

Ah, the 2012 Newbery Medal winner. What can I say? I was rooting for Gary D. Schmidt's Okay For Now, so I couldn't help but experience Dead End in Norvelt through the lens of my disappointment. I can't get over the fact that Okay For Now wasn't honored by any of the ALA Youth Media Awards. (It did just win big over at School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books, which is completely awesome... but still!) 

So, although my perspective on this book may be somewhat biased, I liked Dead End in Norvelt quite a lot. I didn't love it-- but I did enjoy this semi-autobiographical tale of a wacky and life-changing summer in the life of young Jack Gantos as he ends up grounded and spends much of his time transcribing obituaries for an elderly neighbor.

That may not sound like an enticing plot, but surprisingly, my favorite parts of the book were the obituaries. I was so moved by the thought of one very dedicated woman dictating not only tributes to her friends and neighbors, but documenting her beloved town's history. Really, really lovely stuff. Indeed, the overall theme of history- Gantos' affection for studying it, the idea that we should all learn from it- is woven throughout the story to great effect.

Still, this book isn't quite as cohesive as I would expect from a Newbery award winner. There are a lot of plot threads and a lot of characters, and I was expecting them to all intersect and come together in some sort of awe-inspiring way, but... they don't. A mystery is solved, the main character learns an important lesson, and the book just seems to trail off in the end.

That said, I'm very much looking forward to attending this year's Newbery Caldecott Wilder banquet at the ALA Annual Conference in June to see Jack Gantos speak. If his solid performance on this audiobook recording is any indication, his speech should be fantastic. I did find myself missing the variety of character voices I enjoy in audiobooks narrated by professional actors-- but Gantos has a gift for presenting his own writing in an engaging way with a great deal of heart.

At my library, I often help middle school students who are assigned to read a Newbery winner. I would certainly recommend Dead End in Norvelt to any reader looking for a humorous pick.

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