Jack Gantos knows how to write great characters. Of course, one of his characters IS Jack Gantos, but I don't know if that made it easier or harder to write. The characters kept me reading his Newbery Award winning book, Dead End in Norvelt. The story was interesting enough, but I wouldn't have enjoyed the book if it weren't for Jack, Bunny - his best friend, and his feisty old neighbor, Miss Volker.
Jack is a smart kid with odd parents and a nose that bleeds whenever he gets scared, stressed or excited. He makes some bad choices and ends up grounded for the summer in the sleepy Pennsylvania town of Norvelt. Jack's only diversion is helping his neighbor write obituaries for the founding citizens of Norvelt. Jack doesn't mind writing obituaries, but he doesn't like dead bodies and his best friend lives in a mortuary.
Bunny Huffer is Jack's best friend. She isn't a main character, but her story appearances are memorable and funny. Bunny is an abnormally short and stout young girl with a big mouth and big ideas. She's the self-proclaimed leader of her Girl Scout troop and the Norvelt little league team. She has no sympathy for Jack's predicament and often berates him for not being able to join her for summer fun. She's scared of nothing and willingly starts a neighborhood watch group to track down the gang of Hell's Angels terrorizing Norvelt.
Miss Volker is Jack's elderly neighbor. Hounded by the town's lovesick busy body, Miss Volker occupies her days writing for the Norvelt newspaper. The town of Norvelt was a planned community, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt to help poor coal miners and their families buy their first homes. Mrs. Roosevelt gave Miss Volker the responsibility of tracking the health of Norvelt's founding townspeople, and Miss Volker believes that duty extends to writing their obituaries. Jack's mom volunteers him to help write and type the obituaries, but Miss Volker also enlists Jack's help as a chauffeur, errand runner, and exterminator.
There is plenty going on in Norvelt - motorcycle gangs, mysterious deaths, fires - to keep readers interested in Jack's *sleepy* little town.
Jack Gantos knows how to write great characters. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
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