Technically, I didn't read Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. Miss Amy told me to get it on audio because it's read by the author. She was right. That makes it awesomer.
Dead End in Norvelt is a weird blend of autobiography, fiction, and history. The author is the main character and according to the audio interview with him at the end of the recording, lots of parts of the book are true, like his chronic nosebleeds, the town started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and his parents' differing attitudes toward the town.
It's the story of the summer of 1962, the summer Jack accidentally fires his dad's WWII souvenir Japanese sniper rifle, which gets him grounded for life. Jack is only allowed out of the house to help elderly Miss Volker write obituaries for the original Norvelters who pass on.
The summer gets crazier and crazier with Jack's dad buying and repairing an old plane, Jack learning to drive a car at the tender age of eleven, the Hell's Angels coming to town and burning down a house, and little old ladies dying left and right.
Edmund asked me if there was a movie of this book yet.
The scene when Jack first goes to Miss Volker's house is probably one of the most memorable scenes of all time. She has her hands in a pot of liquid on the stove. She's hopping from one foot to the other. Jack is convinced her flesh is melting off. She takes her hands out of the pot and what Jack thinks is her "flesh" is running all over the linoleum.
Patrick was in the car when we were listening to this part and even he laughed.
Lucy thought it was disturbing.
SPOILER: Turns out the liquid was paraffin wax, not melting flesh.
Miss Volker loves history, specifically the history of Norvelt, but she also writes the "This Day In History" column for the newspaper. Jack loves that feature. At the end of every obit, Miss Volker adds some historical tie-ins to the life of the deceased.
The book isn't without it's biases. Jack and his mother are anti-hunting, but when a poached deer dies on their property they use it for food. There are some political bends to the way some of the history is presented too, particularly Miss Volker's opinions about God and war. I felt obligated to point out some contradictions to my kids, but for the most part it was pretty subtle.
Other things that might be problematic: The Hell's Angels gang curses the town. The number 666 is mentioned. One of Jack's friends is a morbid little girl whose father owns the funeral parlor. She loves to provoke Jack into a nosebleed with gory descriptions of corpses. If you'd like to see more details about the book, I found this link when I was googling what year the book takes place in (because I forgot, not because I wasn't paying attention). (Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of Dr. Dobson and I know nothing about Focus on the Family other than he started it or is involved in it somehow.) (I do love me some parentheses.)
The main message of the book is that History is important. We need to know it and study it and use it to make a better future. I can't argue with that. I'd say this book is appropriate for ten and up. Maybe younger if they have a strong stomach.
Remember last week when I said I was going to read some YA romance? Here it is. This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith wasn't that bad. It wasn't that good, but I was expecting much worse.
G. sends an email to E. by mistake. E. replies. So begins the relationship between super-mega-star Graham Larkin (think Zac Efron) and small-town girl, Ellie O'Neill. They keep their identities secret for the most part, but Graham learns enough about Ellie to move the set for his next movie to her small town in Maine. His first stop when he gets there: the ice cream shop where Ellie works. His first move: to ask the girl behind the counter (whose shirt says "Ellie") out for dinner.
PLOT TWIST! The girl wearing the "Ellie" shirt is actually Ellie's best friend, Quinn, who spilled a milkshake on her own shirt and borrowed Ellie's!
That little bit of confusion gets resolved pretty early on. Graham finds the real Ellie, and Quinn is surprisingly cool about it. Cool in a good way, not a stand-offish way.
When Ellie's single mom finds out who Graham is, and that he's interested in her daughter, she has to put the brakes on their relationship because PLOT TWIST! Ellie is actually the daughter of a high profile senator who was MARRIED to someone else when Ellie was conceived. He was involved in their lives, visiting his child and providing financial support, until the media discovered his secret and started hounding Ellie and her mom. That's when Ellie's mom took her child, moved to Maine from DC and changed their last name. She fears the media nightmare will re-occur if it gets out that the Senator's daughter is dating Graham Larkin.
What will Ellie do? What will Graham do? What will Quinn do when she finds out who Ellie really is? What happens when the paparazzi get too close and Graham slugs one in the face? Do you care? Probably not.
There is one point in the novel when Graham's agent suggest he stop chasing the skirts in town (first Quinn, then Ellie) and "just try to sleep with" Olivia, his blonde, bitchy co-star (Think Sharpay from High School Musical.) for publicity's sake. Graham to his credit, is disgusted.
The novel does a good job showing how lonely being a media super-star can be. Graham longs for his pre-fame friends and family. His relationship with Ellie works because she got to know the real Graham before she found out about his stardom.
The book ends with Graham taking Ellie to a rock over-looking the ocean to wait for the sunrise. Sunrise is several hours away. Hmmm. But she does yawn and say she's tired. End scene.
I'd let my high schoolers read this if they had a strong desire and any free time. But they have neither. Frankly, it's just not that great and I struggled to finish it.
Jill and I picked this quirky little gem up at the library. I left it on the table in our living room, and every. single. person. in our family has been intrigued.
If Rocks Could Sing is an ingenious alphabet book. All of the pictures and letters are photographs of actual rocks that the author found. She writes in the end notes that she looked for a long time for the letter K.
Right next to the Alphabet book section at our library, is the Folk Tale/Fairy Tale collection.
*Jill has a slight princess obsession. At this very moment, she is singing "every day it's a quiet village...every day like the one before," which everyone knows are the opening lines to Belle's big number in Disney's Beauty and Beast.
Soooo, we check out a lot of princess books. She calls this one, "Tangled."
Rapunzel by Sarah Gibb is too text heavy for Jill to sit through word for word, but the illustrations keep her captivated for quite a while. I particularly love the black on white silhouettes. (I keep suggesting "Silhouette" to C. Donaldson for a Theme Thursday, but she's not listening.) The silhouettes looks like paper cut artwork.
Jill is perplexed/disappointed by the fact that Rapunzel never wears shoes.
That's quite enough out of me this Wednesday. I'm going to request Jill sing my favorite song from her repertoire, "When Will My Life Begin" from Tangled while I wait to read your reviews.
*understatement of the year