I love Jack Gantos and was fortunate enough to see him at TLA in Austin. He gave a brief booktalk about DEAD END IN NORVELT (FSG, September 2011) and I knew I would fall in love with it immediately. Here's the thing about Jack's books: his voice is there on every page in every syllable. I can hear the laconic wit, the self-deprecating humor, the pauses, the rhythm of the words on the page.
Here is Jack writing from his past (with a bit of fiction mixed in to make it more real, of course). Norvelt was a planned community begun by Eleanor Roosevelt (Nor-Velt is named in her honor). However, as the original homeowners begin to grow older, the town begins to decay a little. There is talk that the remaining houses may be located to a new planned community. This does not sit well with Jack now with the town coroner and obituary writer (how's that for a great combination of careers?) and next door neighbor, Miss Volker. Arthritis has caused Miss Volker to need some assistance and Jack's mother volunteers him for the summer. And even tough our adventure is already well underway, here is where the truly odd adventure begins. Jack serves as Miss Volker's secretary. She, in turn, allows him to drive her car, fixes is bloody nose (must be read to be fully appreciated), and even becomes the chief suspect when all sorts of the towns' elderly population begins to drop like flies.
It is a romp for sure. However, it is also social commentary, quiet almost indistinct commentary. Rest assured though, it is always there for the careful reader, the one who opens up ears and eyes and gets beneath the surface. <184>