Yes, it's winter break for many of us teachers. What does that mean? Well, I just finished reading another novel . . . in three days (and had a good day writing today, too, thank you very much). The novel I read? Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. One of my seventh-grade students was reading it before break, and that got me interested. It's a fantastic read--funny, quirky, peopled by very real, lovable, flawed characters. Gantos' narrator (also named Jack Gantos) reminds me of Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and certainly of her brother Jem, too. Jack's twelve years old and isn't afraid to think for himself. He befriends one of the most interesting characters I've come across in literature, Miss Volker who serves many roles in Norvelt including writing the town's obituaries, which become sprawling stories celebrating the deceased's lives and connecting those lives to events recent and long past. The book's full of interesting history. Most of the history is real; some of it is made up; and Gantos lets us readers figure out for ourselves what's what.
By the way: Did you know there were towns in Pennsylvania funded by the U.S. government during the great depression intended to be, in some ways, ideal communities? They gifted to families homes and land so that even when jobs couldn't be found, these families could grow on their own property what they needed to survive. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was such a supporter of these towns that some of them are named after her, such as Eleanor, West Virginia, and Norvelt, Pennsylvania (EleaNOR RooseVELT). Until I read Gantos' book, I'd never heard of these towns.
Anyway, if you love a great story, give it a read.