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)