I attended a seminar recently, entitled “Better Blogging.” One of the huge no-no’s was being inconsistent with your blogging. So if there’s a blogging hell, Newbery Pie’s going there. Yet, Benji and I are willing to work hard enough to earn our way back into blogging heaven and your good graces by posting a new blog at least twice a week about the latest book we’ve read. We originally planned on reading the first ever Newbery winner and working our way up. But let’s face it. Sometimes (not always), newer is better, so we have decided to re-start with the latest winner, and work our way down. So enjoy our reviews on the 2011 winner, Dead End in Norvelt, and look for the next review (2010′s Moon Over Manifest) in about two weeks…if we’re still into doing this by then.
What I liked about this book: While definitely not Newbery worthy, Dead End in Norvelt did have some really good moments. I think it was the promise of these good moments that left me so disappointed with the ending, and really the book as a whole. My favorite scene was when Jack, in order to check on whether an old lady who had been reported dead, was actually dead, snuck into her house in the only disguise he had available, his Grim Reaper costume. I also liked the hunting scene where Jack lets loose a fart in order to scare away a deer his dad was trying to kill. (I’m sure Jake will tell you more about that scene)
What I disliked about this book:
The first 25% of the book is wonderful. It feels like you are reading a great book, that definitely deserves the Newbery. Then it seems like Gantos got tired of writing, or was worried all of a sudden that kids might find his book boring, and starts introducing Hells Angels for no real reason, and the plot takes a sharp turn for the worse, and the whole book, that you had been enjoying for a while, turns into a predictable, cheesy murder mystery.
Did it deserve the Newbery?:
No. Absolutely not.
It wasn’t even close to being the most distinguished Children’s book of the year. I can name several that were better. But in my humble opinion, it was Okay For Now that should have brought home the shiny gold medal. (It didn’t even get an honor!) It had it’s flaws, but in the end it was a great book. In contrast, Dead End in Norvelt had its good moments and turned out in the end to be a huge flaw. I really don’t know what the Newbery Committee was thinking.
If I could only judge the latest Newbery winner, Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, by two categories, it would be style and plot. I’m the kind of person that likes to get the bad news first, eat my broccoli before my cake, so we’ll start there.
It’s not that this book does not have a good, fast-paced, interesting plot. It’s that it rises, reaching for the climax, and only grabs air, falling dead before its falling action and resolution have a moment to shine. So much is left unresolved. It’s as if Jack Gantos, who is also the main character’s name since the story is based roughly on his life as a child in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, got tired of writing or was in a hurry to meet the deadline to be eligible for the year’s Newbery award and decided to hastily wrap it up without considering all the loose ends he was leaving undone. In short, the ending sucked.
Now, to the good part: style. You know that awesome feeling you get when you watch a Steven Spielberg movie because the kids are so realistic in their behavior and dialogue? That’s the feeling I got when reading this book. The dialogue between the boy and his mother, the boy and his best friend, Bunny, the boy and the old lady he hangs out with – it’s all so honest and realistic. Rather than handling potentially controversial moments with care, Gantos lets his quirky style shine, turning the death of an elderly person into a reason for humor. While the plot falls flat, the book is definitely very funny, despite the heavy mystery that involves several citizens of the town dying left and right.
2 out of 5 for plot. 5 out of 5 for style. Thus, it gets an average of 3.5 out of 5 Newbery Pies. Not bad. Worth a read.