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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.


Book 61/100: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt - Jack Gantos

I think middle-grade historical fiction just isn't really my thing.

Although this is well-written and is obviously meant to be humorous, I'm afraid it didn't make me laugh. It felt like it relied a lot on its "voice" and a sense of atmosphere, since anything resembling a plot didn't start to emerge until the last quarter of the book, at which point getting an actual plot felt very disorienting.

The voice didn't particularly enchant me, and I'm not automatically gaga over a well-captured historical atmosphere, so this book didn't leave much for me except for a couple mildly interesting characters and competent writing.

I also felt as though the narrator, who is a sort of fictionalized version of the author's younger self, came across as way too "good" to be a believable 11-year-old. Not so much in his actions, but in his thoughts, which always seemed to be sucking up to his parents and other adults. Since he's based on the author, it's hard not to see him as a Gary Stu, or at least as a character seen through rose-colored glasses ("Why, when I was young, kids respected their elders!") And although I found the character of Miss Voelker interesting, I had trouble believing an 11-year-old boy would love hanging out with her and listening to her stories as much as Jack did. Almost every kid that age that I know, while having affection for their elders, is bored witless by long stories from their parents and grandparents.

This book didn't bore me witless, luckily. But I may have lost patience if it was much longer. I think nostalgia and adult tastes had a LOT to do with its winning of the Newbery, whose committee seems somewhat swayed toward atmospheric historical fiction.