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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

From Norvelt to Nowhere, written by Jack Gantos. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2013. $18.99 ages 10 and up

"I stared at his pointy face. It was twitchy, and he had wiry, bottlebrush hairs bristling out of his ears and even more hairs poking sharply down from his nose, and covering the dark cleft of his chin was a thatch of crisscrossed hairs as if they were hiding the secret entry to an insect lair. I leaned across the table and under my breath I asked, "Miss Volker, are you sure you need another glass?"

In this sequel to the wonderful Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos regales his audience with zany humor, murder and mayhem and a lesser dose of American history. When Jackie can't attend school because of construction there, he is able to make a trip with Miss Volker to Hyde Park, NY where she can pay her respects to the recently deceased Eleanor Roosevelt, founder of Norvelt and a woman to be suitably honored upon her death.

Everywhere they go on the trip they are met with intrigue and deception. Another murder in Norvelt asserts that Mr. Spizz, the suspected murderer is up to his old tricks. When Miss Volker's twin sister dies, she is sure that the death is the result of foul play. Leaving Hyde Park, they begin the journey to Florida for the funeral. Together, she and Jackie will bring the murderer to justice. Of that she is sure. Jackie is not keen that she is carrying a gun, and he worries that Miss Volker might herself take action that will result in death for her arch enemy, Mr. Spizz. It is a discomforting thought. He's afraid that Mr. Spizz will not be able to outrun the indomitable old woman.

Well plotted, with a myriad of twists and turns, Jack Gantos entertains and enriches our reading lives with these larger-than-life characters, their hilarious antics and fast paced action. Jackie loves Classics Illustrated comic books and through his reading makes connections between the characters he knows and those who people his beloved comics. He sees that good and evil can reside in one person (as it does in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and accepts that Miss Volker and he may have some of those same characteristics.

I stopped to reread certain phrases and scenes as I went along, wanting to savor his characters, his description of setting and the dialogue he creates between those characters. Jackie and Miss Volker are people you will not soon forget if this is your first meeting. If you know them from the first book, you will be delighted to be in their company again. The ending is just right, and offers a chance for another installment. I will eagerly await its release! 

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