From Norvelt to Nowhere & Better Nate Than Ever
While we’re spending some time in the upper age ranges of the Newbery, I wanted to talk about Jack Gantos’ FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE. Jonathan touched on it in his post Revisting Sequels, where I was tickled to hear him confess he likes it better than the first, since I’ve been toying with that thought myself. With the same characters and the same jaw-dropping wildness, the plot has a very different shape here; though it starts off in the episodic vein of its predecessor, it quickly turns into a Keystone Kops mad-cap mystery road-trip. I like that the narrative tension teases with the concept of going too far, even for Jack. That the story does, over and over, but the characters (with the exception of the bad guy) never quite do, seems like a pretty neat trick. It does play around with reader’s memories of the first book, and this is part of its strength. It will be a challenge to discuss at the Newbery table, but you know how I feel about that. I wonder: can it be an expectation, if talking about a sequel, that committee members read the previous book(s) upon which the book at hand depends? Not so that the other works can be discussed, but so that the sequel can be understood and discussed as a sequel?
I brought up BETTER NATE THAN EVER in regards to Debuts, where many of you commented, often citing that you thought very highly of it but hadn’t thought of it for Newbery…maybe because it was so funny? TeenReader admitted “As I picked it up to reread some of my favorite passages, I was surprised to see how emotionally honest and heartbreaking it could be” and Hannah pointed us back to her October Nomination, in part: “This book is funny and smart. I was rooting so hard for Nate and his character has stuck with me — the levity doesn’t take away from the character development at all; in fact, it adds to it.” I read BETTER NATE THAN EVER in a single day and evening, which is unusual for me: it’s a fast read, but not thin. I snuck an extra long lunch and read past my bedtime to finish it; the pacing so airtight that it never dropped me. Although it was a fast-clip there were artful turns and ebbs to let us catch our breath, notice something new, and refocus. Both Nate’s voice as narrator, and the dialogue, were equally believable and unique. And the little twist at the end is an added bonus; readers get the benefit of both endings being true: the Nate who is ok going home, and the Nate who doesn’t have to, thank goodness.
Is the Gantos too weird and funny, the Federle too warm and funny, to be considered Newbery material? I think they are stellar examples of funny, and the perfect treatment for the boy-turning-young-man-independent-road-trip story.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at email@example.com
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