From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos
Halloween has come to Norvelt right at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jack dresses up as the local serial killer to trick or treat, but no one finds him funny. Even Jack loses his sense of humor when another old lady is killed right in front of him from a poisoned cookie. Miss Volker, the last surviving original Norvelt woman, takes the murder very personally since the serial killer had been killing in order to marry her. She is intent on revenge and takes Jack along with her on a cross-country journey to settle the issue once and for all. But all may not be as simple as it seems as Jack finds himself with plenty of potential killers riding on the same train with them.
Gantos won the Newbery Medal with the first Norvelt book and it was spectacular. This book is more of a bumpy ride. There are moments where Gantos reaches the same smart mix of serious heartfelt writing and humorous situations. Then it can drag a bit as historical lessons are shared. But the good thing is that those good parts outnumber the slowdowns and the humor still shines.
A large part of what makes the book work are the characters of Jack and Miss Volker. This wonderful pairing adds to the fast pacing of the novel, move the story forward and are a pleasure to spend time with. The book tends to slow when Miss Volker is more quiet and contained. When she is unleashed, the story is exceptional.
Fans of the first book will want to read the second and I’m happy to travel along with Jack and Miss Volker anytime. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.