A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that From Norvelt to Nowhere is Jack Gantos' sequel to the Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt, and, like the first book, it's set in 1962. Here, 12-year-old protagonist Jack tries to help his best friend, the elderly Miss Volker, enforce her own justice on a man she thinks is a murderer, going on a road trip with her to sort it all out. Miss Volker carries a handgun in her purse that accidentally goes off (but no one's hurt), and later she acquires a whaling harpoon that she throws at a man in a car. The violence is more cartoony than scary, and Miss Volker struggles to overcome her own harmful urges.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE begins with a Halloween murder that occurs shortly after the events of Dead End in Norvelt. The mystery of the murdered elderly ladies that seemed to have been solved in the first book turns out to have new twists, and Jack Gantos (a nonautobiographical character who happens to share the author's name) and Miss Volker are off on a road trip to solve it once and for all. Where Miss Volker sees herself as Ahab (from Moby-Dick) chasing the elusive white whale (the man she claims is the murderer), Jack sees her more as a Jekyll/Hyde: good person who sometimes gives in to evil cravings. The mystery adventure includes shady characters who may be what they seem, a nighttime graveyard showdown, and several incidents involving a whaling harpoon.
Is it any good?
Though From Norvelt to Nowhere shares the same exaggerated tall-tale tone of Newbery-winner Dead End in Norvelt, the story itself is more convoluted and doesn't quite offer the same satisfaction. Twelve-year-old Jack is still as likable as ever, and readers will relate to the joy and freedom he feels as he embarks on a road-trip adventure with only eccentric Miss Volker to guide him, but the story centers mostly on Miss Volker's quest to once and for all resolve the mystery of the murdered old ladies back in Norvelt. Unmoored from the kooky small-town setting, Miss Volker's vacillations over whether she loves or hates "Spizz," the accused murderer, seem too strange to relate to -- she literally tries to kill him for most of the novel, while at the same time wondering if she wants to marry him. Her historical lectures to Jack seem a bit more forced this time around, as do Jack's near-constant attempts to draw real-life parallels to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Moby-Dick. Still, kids who enjoyed the first book or who like silly road-trip antics will enjoy this farcical adventure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Jack's mother doesn't let him read Classics Illustrated because they're comic books. Do you think comic books can be considered "real" literature?
How does From Norvelt to Nowhere compare with Newbery Award-winner Dead End in Norvelt? Do you think there's room for another book about Jack and Miss Volker?
What parts of this historical novel could only happen in 1962? Could any of it happen today?
- Author: Jack Gantos
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Adventures, Friendship, Trains
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: September 24, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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