On the Awesomeness of Jack Gantos, including his Newbery win for Dead End in Norvelt

So when I read on Tuesday that Jack Gantos won the Newbery for his latest novel, Dead End in Norvelt, I must admit I cursed aloud! This was a book that:

A) I had read and thoroughly enjoyed
B) I had just given away to my father for Christmas (it was autographed!!)
C) I interviewed Jack Gantos when he came to St. Louis in September promoting the book!
D) I love Jack Gantos and was thrilled that he finally got some well-deserved recognition!

So here is my metaphor for my “relationship” with Jack Gantos: He is the amazingly cool kid in high school wearing the Ramones t-shirt, skinny jeans, and Chuck Taylors who is too cool for school but loves to show his brilliance by making witty remarks in honors English. I am the dorky girl with the oversized glasses, permed hair, braces and lack of fashion sense, sitting in the corner, worshiping from afar.

As you can tell in my picture with Jack, I’m a little star-struck to be attending an awesome dinner party at NCTE 2010 where he talked to me like I was a normal person and put his arm around me for the picture!

What did we talk about? The fact that his non-fiction memoir A Hole in My Life is the most stolen book from my classroom (because it deals with the time when he, as a teenager, helped sail a boat into NYC full of hash, but alas, got caught and went to jail for a year=hole in life). It definitely is a book kids want to read, but when they finish, they pass it on to their friends and not so much back to me.

Then he came to St. Louis this September and was gracious enough to grant me an interview for Vocabgal -which will be posted next Thursday, Feb 2nd! Again, he chatted with me like I was a normal human being, rather than a star-struck fan (I kept my giggling to a minimum I hope.)

What I love about Jack is that he bases much of his writing on his own personal life, and he has a fascinating, if not always warm and fuzzy, life. Dead End in Norvelt is so interesting because it is almost another memoir -he based it on the time he spent as a child in the town of Norvelt-a town named for Eleanor Rosevelt who created this awesome, pseudo-socialist community where everyone built each others’ homes and paid each other with their own goods and services. Jack’s mother had grown up in this town and, as the book opens, has moved back with her family, but Jack’s father is not as happy with the location…

Jack’s sense of humor and comedic timing describing the events of the story make the book laugh-out-loud funny, yet the poignancy of his task to help the town’s nurse write the eulogies for the last original townsfolk is rather touching (and the fact that these townsfolk start dying off rather quickly also poses a mystery to be solved).

My favorite part of the story is when Jack has to sneak inside an old woman’s house to see if she is dead, so he dresses up in his Halloween costume-which, of course-is a Grim Reaper outfit. The woman isn’t dead, but almost dies when she sees the embodiment of death itself creeping toward her.

This is what you can expect from the book that has it all-humor, excitement, love, eccentricities and Jack’s personal flair. I think the autograph he created just for this book conveys it all!

8 Responses to “On the Awesomeness of Jack Gantos, including his Newbery win for Dead End in Norvelt”

  1. stacy says:

    I remember reading your review ages ago and you stating that you smelled a Newberry contender!!

  2. I love when there are surprises for the Newbery and Caldecott. I don’t think Norvelt was at the top of many lists, so congrats to Jack Gantos!

  3. Nancy says:

    Love authors who do more than just sign a book – they take time to make each fan feel special. Congrats to him!

  4. Kevin Henkes drew an adorable bunny scene when I went to his B & N booksigning in Southlake. Helps that we share the same editor. He also sent an original painting of one of his characters when my son’s first grade class was studying him. Such a nice man!

  5. stacy says:

    Awesome! I just LOVE his books!!

  6. Wow-so glad everyone is as excited as I am about Jack’s Newbery win-yay!

  7. Katie says:

    LOVE the excitement of this review :) I hadn’t even heard of this darn book prior to its Newbery win, but now I can’t wait to read it!

  8. Thanks Katie! Usually I’ve never heard of the Newbery either-so proud that I actually was ahead of the curve (for once, though, I don’t expect it to happen again :).

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