The latest offering from award winning children's author Jack Gantos is a superb blend of fact with fiction. Intertwining autobiographical highlights from his childhood in the small town of Norvelt with a superb range of characters, events and twisting plots Gantos has created an entertaining, humorous and delightfully bizarre novel which instantly grabbed My Book Corner's attention.
On the opening page Jack (surname Gantos … ) finds himself grounded for the entire summer. It first appears as little consolation that he is only allowed out to help the frail Miss Volker type up her obituaries for the local newspaper. This is further compounded by the fact that cake rather than money is the only payment Jack is permitted to accept, ground as his mum is in the ‘Norvelt way.’ These visits are where the bizarreness begins to stomp effortlessly in to this striking YA novel.
When Jack tentatively places his first steps in side her house and discovers her “leaning over the gas stove with her hands inside a wide, tall pot and her face screwed up in agony”, the reader is led in to a comedic scene full of witty one liners … “I hesitated, but there was nothing else to do except run away screaming,”
Jack’s fumbling is a perfect foil for Miss Volker’s stubbornness which fuels her steadfast determination to ensure all the “original two hundred and fifty families” of Norvelt receive “their final health report” As Jack rushes Miss Volker around to catch the bodies before they go cold, well as fast as a nervous 10 year old is prepared to drive, the increase in numbers, the curse of the Hell’s Angels, houses being shipped out and the building of a runway in Jack’s backyard (yes!) intermingle to produce a multi layered plot.
Jack comes across as a likeable, earnest character whose confusion is deeply felt as he is unable to follow the contradictory demands from each parent. The conflict results in one particularly humorous episode featuring Jack storming across his mother’s much beloved corn on top of his Dad’s tractor.
In common with most people his age, Jack’s body often lets him down – in this case it takes the form of a nose which bleeds profusely at the sign of any stress or tension. Unfortunately for Jack this doesn't preclude lying to his mother or trying to remain cool and aloof in front of his female friend Bunny,
“I looked like a bloody turkey as I circled the bases. ‘Run, Jack, run!’ Bunny yelled out.”
Teenage angst and downright embarrassment is keenly felt through Gantos’ witty prose,
“… from now on I would forever be known by everyone as “the kid who got dragged off the field by his mum.” That was going to be embarrassing.”
A perfect blend of fiction and fact, a love of reading and discovering are all at the heart of this entertaining novel. The reader is forced to sit up, pay attention and emit more than a few chuckles as they are taken on the journey of Jack Gantos’ summer in Norvelt discovering why it is a dead end in more ways than one.