A Road Trip Sparks An Unlikely Friendship In 'Norvelt To Nowhere'

From Norvelt to Nowhere is a book that begins in the shadow of nuclear annihilation, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The first few paragraphs also disclose that nine elderly women in the town of Norvelt are dead by poison.

Did we mention it's a kids' book, too?

From Norvelt to Nowhere is the sequel to Jack Gantos' best-selling Dead End in Norvelt, which won the 2012 Newbery Medal. It's a road story, really, in which young Jack jumps in to a septic tank that's not a bomb shelter, and then joins his elderly teacher, Miss Volker, on a long car trip in a couple of relics, during which he grows out of being a boy — but doesn't quite arrive at manhood — and he and his teacher strike up a real friendship.

"Both of them bend but nobody really breaks," Gantos tells NPR's Scott Simon. Even though Miss Volker is more than six decades older than her young charge, "there are times when Jack has the upper hand, and he has the better humor."


Interview Highlights

On being a "fringe kid"

I moved a lot as a kid, I went to 10 schools in 12 grades, and so I was one of those kids that was a permanent wallflower, you know, I'd go somewhere and I'd hang back, and I'd observe, and I would sort of be on the fringe. But then I realized that I liked the fringe. The fringe was not something that I was off-put by, after a while, because the fringe gave me the flexibility to appear or disappear, which I found to be very helpful ... once you start observing things, you start writing them down, and then from writing them down you begin to see that you might have something here.

On serving time in prison, for getting involved in a drug-smuggling operation as a teenager

They said, well, 'We've got a yacht with 2,000 pounds of hashish. We need an extra hand to sail it to New York City; we'll give you $10,000' ... You probably remember when $10,000, as applied to education, actually could buy you four years of education. Not now — it'll get you about 15 minutes, but then it was substantial money. And so I took a chance, sort of put my morals, values and ethics in a lockbox and went sailing to New York City, got the cargo there, and was promptly arrested and given six years in prison, of which I did a year and a half.

One of the things which connects the Norvelt books to Hole in My Life, which was the memoir, about my time in prison, is the bookishness. And I think that if I have to find a way to parse those volumes, it would be through the referencing of the literature. And when I was in prison, I read tremendous amounts of literature ... it's the best company.

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