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From Norvelt to Nowhere (Norvelt Series #2)

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Jack Gantos' rocket-paced follow-up to the Newbery Medal–winning novel Dead End in Norvelt opens in the 1960s, deep in the shadow of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. But instead of Russian warheads, other kinds of trouble are raining down on young Jack Gantos and his utopian town of Norvelt in western Pennsylvania. After an explosion, a new crime by an old murderer, and the sad passing of the town’s founder, twelve-year-old Jack will soon find himself launched on a mission that takes him hundreds of ...

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From Norvelt to Nowhere (Norvelt Series #2)

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Jack Gantos' rocket-paced follow-up to the Newbery Medal–winning novel Dead End in Norvelt opens in the 1960s, deep in the shadow of the Cold War and the Cuban missile crisis. But instead of Russian warheads, other kinds of trouble are raining down on young Jack Gantos and his utopian town of Norvelt in western Pennsylvania. After an explosion, a new crime by an old murderer, and the sad passing of the town’s founder, twelve-year-old Jack will soon find himself launched on a mission that takes him hundreds of miles away, escorting his slightly mental elderly mentor, Miss Volker, on her relentless pursuit of the oddest of outlaws. But as their trip turns south in more ways than one, it’s increasingly clear that the farther from home they travel, the more off-the-wall Jack and Miss Volker’s adventure becomes. From Norvelt to Nowhere is a raucous road novel about roots and revenge, a last chance at love, and the power of a remarkable friendship.


A Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of 2013

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Audio
In this follow up to the award-winning Dead End in Norvelt, Gantos sends 12-year-old Jack and his elderly mentor, Miss Volker, on a road trip to New York, set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. But with Mr. Spizz—the murderer from the first book—still at large and a new victim dead in Florida, the duo must head south to find justice. As a narrator, Gantos reads with an easygoing approach that works well for the material. He makes little effort to tweak his tone or alter his voice to render voices for the book’s characters. But—perhaps because of his deep knowledge of his own work—his performance is entertaining and effective. Ages 10–14. A Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“Gantos’s reading is spot-on. It’s hard not to laugh out loud.” – AudioFile

“How do Neweberry Medalists follow their award-winning novels? If they’re Jack Gantos, they do it with more over-the-top humor and even crazier adventures. Hold on tight for another wild ride.” – BookPage  

School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 5–8—This followup (2013) to the Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt (2011, both Farrar, Straus) promises—and delivers—as much odd history and morbid hilarity as its predecessor. How can a routine trip to visit the grave of the town founder turn into a whale-sized mission of revenge? When two more old ladies mysteriously die, Jack's feisty, obituary-writing neighbor, Miss Volker, suspects her ex-beau, the still-at-large Mr. Spizz, is behind the crimes. Getting no help from local authorities, the mismatched duo embarks on a road trip from Norvelt to Miami to track down the notorious killer. The pistol-packing Miss Volker is dead-set on vigilante justice, while Jack hopes to prevent his elderly friend from doing anything drastic. Allusions to Moby Dick and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde hint that the course of this quest may not run smoothly. Meanwhile, the pair is being trailed by a rogue undertaker, a weasel-faced detective, and Spizz himself. Jack soon suspects there's more to this convoluted fish story than meets the eye. Fans of the first title will delight in revisiting favorite characters, but listeners don't need to be familiar with the first book to appreciate this new adventure. Gantos reads without flair, barely varying his voice for emotion or character. Unfortunately, this distracts from an otherwise highly entertaining story. This book will appeal to boys and reluctant readers, but stick with the print version.—Alissa Bach, Oxford Public Library, Oxford MI
Publishers Weekly
★ 08/12/2013
Gantos’s sequel to his Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt offers less history, more murder, and another hefty helping of zaniness. An explosion shuts school for repairs, leaving Jackie, 12, free to accompany Miss Volker to Hyde Park, N.Y., to pay last respects to Norvelt’s recently deceased founder, Eleanor Roosevelt. Death (and a detective) seem to shadow Jackie around every bend: Mr. Spizz, the murder suspect from Dead End in Norvelt, is still at large when a new victim dies, and the travelers head to Florida when Miss Volker learns her twin sister has expired (she suspects foul play). During their road trip, Jackie reads Classics Illustrated comics that his mother has forbidden. “Those,” she tells him, “are what cheaters and idiots read.” But Miss Volker uses Jackie’s reading as a springboard to examine the life she’s lived, confessing her own Jekyll and Hyde personality and drawing a hilarious analogy between herself and Spizz to Ahab and his whale. The anxieties of the Cold War recede, overshadowed by these two larger-than-life characters bent on bringing a murderer to justice in the kookiest way possible. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)
VOYA - Amy Cummins
From Norvelt To Nowhere opens on Halloween, 1962, in small town Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Jack, a twelve-year-old guided by Classics Illustrated comics, gets pulled into the quest of his elderly friend, Miss Volker, to track down a serial murderer. Jack accompanies Miss Volker to the burial place of her hero, Eleanor Roosevelt, in New York and then on to Florida when Miss Volker gets news of her sister's death. Miss Volker believes that Spizz, the convicted killer, is also responsible for her sister's death, and she sees herself as Captain Ahab and Spizz is her white whale. The zany plot includes bumbling detectives, pistol mishaps, utopian community history, and Cold War-era culture. Gantos revels in sensory details such as Jack's tumble into a septic tank he mistakes for a bomb shelter; Miss Volker's medicating her arthritic hands in hot split pea soup; and her harpoon throwing over a fresh grave. While some readers will get disgusted by the gore and frequent references to death, the macabre tone works for fans of Jack Gantos's style. Admittedly, the gothic comedy of this sequel does not stand alone well without its predecessor, Dead End In Norvelt (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011/Voya November 2011 online), which earned a Newbery Medal and Scott O'Dell Award in historical fiction. Detailed historical material and discussions of canonical literature elevate From Norvelt To Nowhere, although such material intrigues adults more than middle school readers. There are clever moments. When Jack has the poor taste to attire himself in a Halloween costume as mass murder Spizz, with makeup by Bunny, the mortician's daughter, it hearkens back to his appearance as the Grim Reaper in the previous novel and resonates with the surprising solution to the murder mystery. Reviewer: Amy Cummins
Children's Literature - Judy Crowder
Talk about a road trip! In this follow-up to Gantos’ 2012 Newbery medal winning Dead End in Norvelt, the Cuban missile crisis is in the headlines, but barely on young Jack Gantos’ radar. That is because he is back helping out the more-than-eccentric Mrs. Volker, a founding member of Norvelt, the utopian Pennsylvania town supposedly begun by Eleanor Roosevelt. Jack was loaned to Mrs. Volker by his mother to help write obituaries for the town paper. And they have been very busy. All the elderly founders have been dropping like flies (murdered?) and Mrs. Volker is the only old lady left—that is, until Mrs. Custard, another founder, moves back to Norvelt only to be murdered by the nefarious Mr. Spizz, Mrs. Volker’s suitor. Mrs. Volker brings a new meaning to the term, “love-hate relationship,” as she attempts to decide whether Mr. Spizz is her last chance at romance or so evil that she speaks of him as her Moby Dick white whale which she is determined to wipe out of existence in true Captain Ahab style. When the old lady’s heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt dies, Mrs. Volker recruits Jack to accompany her to pay tribute at the grave in Hyde Park, so they board a train and off they go. What begins as a two-day adventure by train turns into a multi-state snipe, that is, Spizz hunt. Added to this quest are two detectives, sometimes in disguise, a Volkswagen Beatle that the underage Jack learns to drive, a purloined license plate, two amateur paint jobs, Mrs. Volker’s dead (or is she?) sister, Jack’s dad who flies in and out on his biplane, and Jack’s mom, who gives her blessing to missing school days. A chance at education is not lost for Jack, who learns some amazing history lessons from his arthritic companion. This is a fast-paced adventure by an author with boundless imagination and humor. Readers will never look at Girl Scout cookies the same way again. Reviewer: Judy Crowder; Ages 8 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Gantos picks up where Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, 2011) left off. Mr. Spitz is on the run and Miss Volker is the last Norvelt old lady remaining. In the wake of three momentous deaths, young Jack finds himself rushed from one uproarious adventure to another. Accompanying Miss Volker, he traverses the country ostensibly to memorialize Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Volker's sister. Little does he know, however, that Miss Volker has another agenda. Even though she claims to be a pacifist, she becomes more bloodthirsty at each stop in her efforts to catch the murderous Mr. Spitz. Along the way she teaches Jack (and readers) about the history of the country in colorful and enlightening ways. The book is fast paced and laced with both history lessons and hilarity. The characters, who were so well developed in the first book, return, with perhaps too much reliance on previous developments. This is definitely a follow-up book, rather than one that reads well alone. Fans of Dead End in Norvelt will love reading more about young Jack Gantos and his pal, Miss Volker.—Genevieve Feldman, San Francisco Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
The chase after a serial killer sparks an eventful, if not particularly life-changing, road trip in this sequel to the Newbery-winning Dead End in Norvelt (2011). Following the poisoning of yet another old lady (see previous episode), 12-year-old Jack--aka "Gantos boy"--finds himself drafted to squire his crusty, arthritic neighbor Miss Volker from Pennsylvania to Florida. The ostensible mission? To kill her lifelong would-be beau and chief suspect, Edwin Spizz. Gantos (the author) displays a dab hand at crafting witty one-liners ("Honestly, without guns how do you think old ladies ever get kissed?") and hilariously improbable situations. He also seems determined to jam in as many references to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Moby-Dick and other classics as possible, along with Miss Volker's lectures on topics from Anne Hutchinson and the Puritans to Norvelt's founder, Eleanor Roosevelt, and FDR's infidelities. Jack (the boy) may drive the car on the journey, but it's the interactions and back stories of Miss Volker, Spizz and other adults that drive the story itself to its drolly gothic denouement. This occurs in a Miami funeral home, leaving Jack (the boy) perhaps not far from where Jack (the author)'s earlier semifictional avatar, Jack Henry (Heads or Tails, 1994, etc.), resides. Dollops of history and mystery, plus gross to wickedly barbed comical set pieces set in a talky, ambling, amiable odyssey. (Historical fiction. 11-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781427233134
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Publication date: 9/24/2013
  • Series: Norvelt Series , #2
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

JACK GANTOS, winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for Dead End in Norvelt, is the New York Times bestselling author of  Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and Hole in My Life, a Printz Honor book. A beloved figure at schools, conferences, and stores around the country, he was the 2010 ALAN award winner for his outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature. Jack lives with his family and cats in Boston.

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Read an Excerpt




It was Halloween afternoon and I was swinging hand over hand like an escaped chimpanzee across the lattice of open attic rafters in Miss Volker’s rickety wooden garage. She was circling directly below me and impatiently shouting out orders and crossly pointing up at what odds and ends of no-good junk she wanted me to inspect. I may have been acting like a giddy monkey in the rafters but I was really trying my best to help her out and even make her laugh, because this last while her old-lady moodiness was even more stormy than usual.

Mom had noticed too and just the other day remarked that Miss Volker seemed to be a shade more irritable since she no longer had her crusty old swain, Mr. Spizz, to kick around. He had kept bugging her about getting married, so she tricked him. She agreed to marry him but only if she was the last original Norvelt old lady alive. Miss Volker figured that would never happen and she could just keep him under her thumb forever. But suddenly a string of old ladies dropped over from eating Girl Scout cookies laced with deadly Compound 1080 vermin killer, and Miss Volker was the last old lady left. Spizz thought he’d outsmarted her, but before he could get her to the altar the police caught on to him. He confessed his guilt to Miss Volker, then stole her car and took off before he was captured. Since then nobody but the county police wanted to see him again.

“Spizz was a horrid man,” Mom remarked, “but I guess it made her happy to have him to kick around. I just hope she doesn’t go out and get a grouchy old dog to replace him.”

“She won’t be getting any kind of dog,” I said while filling out my community service report for school. “She has me to growl at.”

“I growl at you too,” Mom added, and pushed my drooping hair out of my eyes, “but I love you, and I’m sure she feels the same.”

I knew Miss Volker wasn’t upset because of my attic antics, or even because of the criminal Mr. Spizz. She was irritable because of the nonstop radio and TV talk that was demanding an all-out war with Russia ever since we had caught the Russians hiding nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba—and they were aimed at us! Last week, the president had come on TV and told the nation not to panic but to brace for the worst. War talk was turning into war hysteria.

Even the Norvelt newspaper got into the act. It published a letter from Mr. Huffer, the funeral director, who argued that we should “pull the trigger first, and blast the Russians back into the Stone Age.”

Miss Volker was furious once she read that letter. Because the arthritis in her hands was especially bad that day, she had me dial Mr. Greene at the newspaper. I held the receiver up to her mouth as she gave him an earful. “You should know better than to print warmongering letters by the worst wagon-chaser in western Pennsylvania,” she scolded. “Our founder, Eleanor Roosevelt, is dedicated to world peace at the United Nations and we should be too. If we pull the trigger first and start a war, the nuclear blasts and fallout will incinerate the human race and all evidence of its history. All the wild animals will drop in their tracks. Dead fish will cover the steaming oceans from shore to shore. Birds in the sky will wither and fall like October leaves. Even the nameless things that burrow deep in the dirt will find they’ve dug their own graves.”

Mr. Greene apologized. Miss Volker hated war. She was as angry as any bomb and wanted to blow war to smithereens.

And then, on the morning World War III was supposed to begin, the silver UFO-shaped gas tank behind the school cafeteria accidentally exploded. The propane fireball looked like a mushroom cloud over Norvelt. The explosion blasted a hole in the school kitchen and cracked a bunch of walls.

We were in class and terrified by the blast because our teacher had started the morning by pointing at the round Seth Thomas clock as it tick-tocked above the blackboard like a bomb. Casually, she had informed us that the Russian missiles launched from Cuba would begin “falling on Norvelt more or less around noonish. But for the moment, don’t worry,” she advised in a yawning, offhand way. “After we finish math we’ll just take our sack lunches and a few board games and head down to the basement air-raid shelter, where the National Guard said we’d be safe.”

“Safe as cockroaches!” Bunny Huffer had cried out derisively. She was the funeral director’s daughter and my best friend, and about as short as a tall cockroach.

“Exactly,” agreed our teacher. “Cockroaches will survive anything.”

But the gas tank unexpectedly blew up before noon. In the classroom the overhead lights flickered and in an instant Bunny leaped up onto her desktop and hollered out, “Russian sneak attack! Run for your life!” Half of the class screamed and stampeded wildly toward the basement shelter, and the other half of us were paralyzed with fear while waiting for the searing white heat of a million nuclear suns to atomize our tears and eyes and brains and the rest of us into glowing space dust. I remember staring at my yellow pencil and thinking that it would soon look like a burning candle clutched in my sizzling hand.

However, nobody was hurt except for a few hysterical kids who were pushed from behind and fell headfirst down the concrete air-raid-shelter steps. The volunteer fire department whistle sounded and within minutes the Norvelt fire truck pulled up and doused part of the rear roof eaves, which had caught fire. While the firemen did their job out back the student body was evacuated through the front doors, and as we all stood on the baseball field our principal, Mr. Knox, announced that school was suspended.

We cheered loudly but he settled us right down when he shrewdly added, “Your time away from school will not be considered a holiday.” We groaned, and as quickly as he could think it up he had given us homework. We were instructed to perform useful community service in “the generous spirit of our town’s founder, Eleanor Roosevelt. And upon your return to school I’ll expect to see a written report of all you have done for Norvelt.”

“But what about the nuclear war?” Bunny shouted out as she stepped forward to face him. As a group we all looked up into the air for incoming missiles but saw only a flock of extra-smart ducks heading north to Canada for cover.

“I have just received word,” Mr. Knox replied cheerfully, “that the conflict in Cuba has been resolved for the moment. But nobody trusts the Russians, so keep listening to the radio for news.”

“Do you mean to tell me that the war is called off?” Bunny cried out. “Dang!” She spit on the ground because she didn’t dare spit on Mr. Knox. He had once played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers and could probably eat a kindergartner for breakfast.

I knew Bunny was disappointed. She had told me her dad hoped for a war and had ordered a lot of expensive caskets for his funeral home. “Special steel caskets,” she explained. “They are so solid you can actually use them for a personal bomb shelter. Plus, they have an adjustable air vent and a little blast-proof window on the cover where rescue teams can look in and see who survives, or not, without having to open the cover and find out the hard way.” She pinched her nose closed and made a stinky face for emphasis.

Bunny was so thrilled about the idea of individual bomb shelters that I didn’t dare point out to her that if there was a nuclear war you would actually be burying yourself alive.

So the reason I was monkeying around Miss Volker’s garage attic during a school day was because Mom had started a Young Women’s Club for Norvelt. Since every old lady in town, except for Miss Volker, had been wickedly poisoned and killed off by the escaped criminal, Mr. Spizz, Mom thought it was a good time for Norvelters to pitch in and donate their useless junk to raise money at a tag sale to help young women buy the dead-old-lady houses that were mysteriously vanishing.

Five houses had already disappeared, and all that was left behind of them were their garages, chicken coops, overgrown gardens, and water-filled foundations rimmed with snapped-off pipes and wires. Miss Volker said someone was stealing Mrs. Roosevelt’s dream. She blamed the Hells Angels, who had bought her sister’s old house, burned it down, then come back this fall to build a clubhouse on the ruins.

But my dad told me what was going on. To make extra money Mr. Huffer had been secretly buying the unoccupied houses and trucking them to a town in West Virginia where he resold them. Mr. Huffer denied doing this but Dad had been hired to drive the big truck that moved the houses, so I knew it was true.

It really bothered Mom that our town was disappearing, so she arranged for me to help Miss Volker gather her junk to sell.

“But why bother starting a club for young women?” I had remarked to my mother while eating breakfast. “We’ll all be burnt toast in the nuclear war.”

“Do as you’re told,” she replied, unfazed by my bleak news. “Somewhere in the world there is a war going on every day. The evil acts of others should not stop hopeful people like us from doing good deeds.”

“Yeah, but this is a war of the whole world at once,” I stressed, circling my arms above my head as if I were Atlas trying to keep the entire globe from exploding.

“For now,” she said sharply, exasperated with my line of thinking, “our battle is to save our town, and without young women this town is just going to disappear.”

“Hey, what about young men?” I asked, thumping myself on the chest.

“Women are the glue,” she replied without hesitation. “If they run off, you don’t have a town. Instead, you have a hobo village full of men who are as feral as wild dogs.”

Maybe she was right, I thought. Where would Peter Pan and the Lost Boys be without Wendy to keep them from turning completely wild? And look at Dad when he didn’t listen to Mom. After he had built his army surplus Piper Cub in our garage, he had dive-bombed people’s houses. He flew above cars and dropped water balloons on them. He landed on the softball field during a game. He buzzed the hens at the community hatchery so many times they stopped laying eggs. He was having so much wild-boy fun people wanted him to leave town and get lost—and he did! He flew to Florida to find better work and he promised he’d be back to get me and Mom, but that hadn’t happened yet. He was still off in Neverland.

I didn’t want Norvelt to disappear, so when I finished my breakfast on Halloween morning I went down to Miss Volker’s garage. It didn’t take me long to say something that annoyed her. I was climbing a ladder up to the rafters when I asked what everyone in the whole world was asking. “Can America beat the Russians in a nuclear war?”

“Do they teach you cause and effect at school?” she hollered up at me. “Bombing them is like committing suicide. Even if they don’t bomb us back we’ll still die from our own fallout. There is no winner.”

She was so touchy about the war. I flinched and knocked over a stained old ceramic pot that nearly beaned her. “Hey! Watch the fallout!” she growled. “I survived three wars and don’t want to be killed by a bedpan and miss out on the joy of being evaporated by a nuclear blast.”

“Sorry,” I sang out. “But it’s pretty cluttered up here.”

Because the hooked fingers on her hands were curled up from arthritis, she had me use electrical tape to bind a small flashlight to her left wrist. She pointed the beam of light at things she wanted to donate. I used a rope to lower a rickety butter churn, an old ice cream maker, a Philco radio the size of a kid’s tombstone, and a rusty Western Flyer bicycle with rotted balloon tires.

“I’m glad to be getting rid of this old rubbish,” she said, and kicked out at the Philco radio. It didn’t tip over and she gave it a foul-weather look. “I don’t need this stuff, and it doesn’t need me. Look at that butter churn for instance,” she continued. “It’s from my hometown of Rugby, Tennessee. I used it. My sister used it. Even Spizz used it. But now it’s junk.

“In fact, now that I’m the last original Norvelter left I feel like a piece of old junk myself—maybe you can sell me off.” She kicked the radio again, but it was a glancing blow off its rounded top.

“You are not junk,” I countered, climbing higher into the rafters to reach for a dented brass tuba she had spotlighted.

“I’m useless here,” she insisted, and this time she reared back and gave the Philco a swinging kick, as if she were kicking one of our new Hells Angels neighbors off her front porch. The Philco tottered on its weighted base but didn’t tip over. She glared at it. “My pledge to Mrs. Roosevelt to be Norvelt’s town nurse is fulfilled, my duty is complete,” she declared, “and now my twin sister in Florida needs an eye operation, so I may go take care of her for a while—perhaps for the winter. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some old geezer down there and fall in love.”

“Really?” I asked, and grabbed at the mouthpiece of the tuba. “Why fall in love?”

“You mean, why fall in love at my age?” she snapped back. “Does it surprise you that before the world ends this old lady desires someone to give her a big beautiful kiss?”

That is exactly what I meant and my cheeks began to throb and redden. “It was dense of me to say that,” I added apologetically.

She shone the flashlight into my face. “Now, don’t start blushing,” she ordered, and sidestepped from beneath me. “If your Swiss cheese nose has a blowout again, I don’t want you showering blood down onto my hair. I just had it done.”

Her hair was as blue as a hydrangea and stood straight up on her head like the Bride of Frankenstein’s. It was so stiff on the sides and so flat on top she could probably balance a bowl of goldfish up there.

“My nose has been fine since your last operation on it,” I hollered back. “Totally under control. Not a drop in two months.” I used to have nervous nosebleeds all the time, but ever since Miss Volker ran a red-hot veterinary tool up my nostrils and rotated it around real good, my scorched inner nose walls had healed into a solid dam of tough, rubbery scar tissue.

I had just tied off a rope around the tuba to lower it to the ground when Bunny Huffer dashed into the garage and yowled like a Tasmanian devil as she skidded to a dusty stop across the gravel. She startled me, and the rope slipped out of my fingers. The bulky tuba shot straight down like a hand cupping a fly. If the wide opening of that tuba landed directly over the top of Bunny’s little head, it would swallow her up like a man-eating snake. She’d be squeezed inside the tuba like a corkscrew and no one in the whole world would have the lungs big enough to blow her back out.

But it landed with a dull note just in front of her foot. She looked up at me with a fearless scowl. “You don’t want to flatten me,” she warned, “’cause I have some incredible news!”

“Another Russian sneak attack?” I asked.

“Better than that,” she cried out.

“Well, don’t just stand there looking like a yard gnome,” Miss Volker snapped, referring to Bunny’s stumpy size as she pointed the flashlight directly into her mousy eyes. “Spit it out before we donate you to the tag sale.”

An impish smile slipped across Bunny’s sweaty face as if she knew what she was about to say would distress Miss Volker more than anyone in the town. She pulled her shoulders back and slanted her eyes to one side to avoid the interrogating beam of the flashlight.

“Well,” she boldly announced with a flourish. “Private sources tell me that a certain very old lady named Mrs. Custer at house E-19 has returned to town. And you know what that means,” she sang with a self-satisfied smile.

“Do tell me,” Miss Volker replied with disdain. Her judgment of Bunny was soured by her vile opinion of Bunny’s father, who smelled of funeral-home formaldehyde and bleach and enjoyed dead people a little too much.

“It means,” Bunny explained slowly, calculating the impact of her point, “that you are no longer the last standing original old Norvelter in Norvelt.”

Miss Volker’s jaw slowly lowered like a flag falling to half-mast. “I was afraid Mrs. Custard might move back,” Miss Volker said, with her voice carrying the heavy weight of her disappointment. “She called me last week from Utah and asked if it was safe enough to return after all the old-lady murders. I asked if she owned a pistol and she said yes, so I advised her to bring it with her and just shoot anyone who tried to poison her. I guess I should have made Norvelt sound more dangerous, but I thought all those old-lady murders in a row would keep her at bay.” She sighed with regret as her shoulders slumped.

“Yikes,” I said, “I don’t think keeping a loaded gun in the house is a good idea for an old lady.”

Instantly Miss Volker drew herself up and glared at me. “What is wrong with you?” she snapped. “First you don’t want old ladies to be kissed. Now you don’t want them to have guns. Honestly, without guns how do you think old ladies ever get kissed?”

Bunny saved me from a further tongue-lashing by butting in. “Well, she won’t need to use the gun on herself,” she suggested, “because she already looks half dead. I’m sure she’ll soon drop over, which is okay with Dad because he could use the funeral business. He hasn’t made a buck off a body since the last old lady hit the deck, and now this war is a dud for casket sales.”

“What a vulture you are,” Miss Volker remarked. “I bet this is the way you and your dad talk about me behind my back.”

“No offense,” Bunny said matter-of-factly. “We talk about everyone this way. Tailors look at people and know the size of their suits. Dad looks at people and knows the size of their coffins. It’s just part of the funeral business. Every living person,” she sang in a radio jingle voice, “is just a breath away from a payday for us.

“Anyway,” Bunny carried on, changing the subject, “looks like Mrs. Custer returned to make her last stand.”

“Good grief,” Miss Volker cried out in frustration, and clawed at the air like a dog scratching a door. “Her name is Mrs. Custard. Not Custer! She may be the last dessert but not the last stand.” Swiftly she spun around and gave the radio a solid kick. It held its ground.

I had read about General Custer and how he and his troops slaughtered Indians on the Montana plains until the Indians had had enough of it. At the Battle of the Little Bighorn the Indians turned the tables on General Custer and slaughtered the troops right down to the last man standing—and then they killed him too. I could imagine that bloody battle as if I were the last man killed and scalped and I felt a pressure build up in my nose kind of like when a steaming teakettle is just about to whistle. I thought for sure I was on the brink of my old bloody nose blasts, but after a moment the pressure retreated. The dam of scar tissue in my nose was still holding strong, and I dropped down from the lowest joist and landed next to Bunny.

“Oh, not to change the subject,” Bunny said as she turned toward me, “but what are you wearing for trick-or-treating tonight?”

“The same as always,” I replied, plucking cobwebs from my hair. “My Grim Reaper costume.”

“Not that old thing,” she burst out, and stomped her little foot.

“But I love my Grim Reaper outfit,” I said, and struck a fearsome pose. “Everyone is afraid of the Messenger of Death knocking on their front door.”

“You have to come up with something new,” she demanded. “Something extra scary. Because I have something killer good, and I’m not telling you what it is just yet.”

“Well, how about I make a Hells Angel costume,” I suggested. “That’s scary.”

She made a blah face. “Come on,” she encouraged. “Think! Make it one step scarier. Use your noodle.”

I couldn’t really think of anything scarier than the gang of Hells Angels that had moved into Norvelt like a nest of angry hornets.

“Okay,” she said impatiently. “I’ll give you a hint—Gantos boy.

“Spizz!” I shouted merrily. “Yes. I could be Spizz.” I turned and looked toward Miss Volker.

“That’s psychopathic,” she said, glaring at me and raising her leg back like a horse about to kick. “You should be ashamed to go as a menacing serial killer.”

I should have been, but it sounded so deranged I knew it would be the best costume in town. And besides, Bunny was jumping up and down and waving her sausage arms as if she were on fire.

“Yes, Killer Spizz!” she hollered. “Poisoner Spizz! Murderer Spizz!” Bunny stood on her tiptoes and grabbed my shoulder. “And,” she added, “I’ll even loan you his adult tricycle. My dad bought it from the town and is planning to weld a passenger seat on the back and charge tourists a buck to ride it on a tour of the remaining dead-old-lady houses.”

“That is shameful!” Miss Volker remarked. “This town is really going downhill fast.”

I smiled at Bunny. “And now I know what you are wearing for Halloween,” I said. She leaned forward and whispered in my ear.

Dead old lady. But you better keep it to yourself because you-know-who won’t like it.”

“Yep,” I whispered back, then shifted my eyes toward Miss Volker, who was still glaring at me.

“Bunny,” she said harshly. “Take the wheelbarrow and haul this junk over to the Community Center. The two of you should be horsewhipped for making fun of dead old ladies.”

Bunny grabbed the coiled body of the tuba and heaved it into the wheelbarrow as if it were a brass octopus. Then she lifted the handles of the wheelbarrow and buzzed off like a small outboard engine at the back end of a river barge.

Once she left, Miss Volker turned to me. “Death may seem a million miles away from you,” she said with an icy voice, “but death has already reached my front porch and I don’t need some peewee serial killer knocking on my door with murderous shrieks of ‘Trick or treat!’”

She was always good at making me feel guilty about my morbid ideas. “Maybe I should be horsewhipped,” I said contritely, and ambled toward her to gently inch the tape from around her wrist and flashlight without peeling off any papery old skin. I knew I should be sorry because there wasn’t anything funny about what had happened to all the sweet old Norvelt ladies.

“Now that Mrs. Custard is back,” I observed, trying to find something upbeat to say, “it means you aren’t the last old lady alive in Norvelt, so Spizz can’t marry you.”

“That’s good for me,” she agreed without sounding agreeable. “But it could be bad for Mrs. Custard.”

“What do you mean?”

“What if he comes back and does her in like he did all the others?” she suggested.

“He can’t come back here,” I said, shocked at the thought. “He’d be spotted.”

“And they’d hang him,” she said, and grotesquely stretched her neck over to one side and stuck out her tongue.

“That’s awful,” I remarked.

“Sure is,” she agreed. “Because he deserves even worse.”

“Worse than hanging?” I cried out.

“Way worse,” she said coldly. “He deserves to have me tormenting him for all the days of his life.”

Then she gave the Philco a ferocious kick from behind and it fell over onto its face. “Finally!” she proudly declared, and rubbed her hands together with the satisfaction of a job well done. “It took me a few tries but I put it six feet under for good.”


Text copyright © 2013 by Jack Gantos

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Customer Reviews

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( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    Good book


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013


    Best book ever! First read the first book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2013

    Gra Great book

    The sequal to jack gantos Dead End in Norvelt is very good if you have not read the first boock go now

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2014


    It was great. I could really picture what the authorbis saying. I would brocommend it to people who like funny books

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    Great book

    I just finished it! I think that miss volker is kindda wired don't you?anyways, it's a must buy book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2014


    Great book need to make more

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    Hi Everybody

    This book has a short blurb, but its good overall.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews

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