And all of this comes with such clever writing it blew my mind away. Take for example this passage: Even though I tried not to listen to Mom and the doctor any talk of money always got my attention because everything in our house depended entirely on money. The tears ran in uneven channels down the wrinkled maze of skin on her face. Today we are going to write a different kind of obituary.” I took my seat and got my pad and sharpened my pencil.
Decisions for us were not made on whether we wanted something, or even needed something, but on whether we could afford it or not. Watching an old person cry is not the same as watching a young person cry. “I’m ready,” I said, and licked the tip of the lead.
All of a sudden, this is not only a novel, it is an autobiographical one but according to the blurb, one that melds the “entirely true” and the “wildly fictional”.
In all honesty, I could not tell you which is which.
Norvelt itself is a very real town built during the Depression by the US Government as a model community for poor coal-miner families and named after Eleanor Roosevelt.
At the time the story is set, the town is close do dying, with families moving out and the ones staying behind dealing with poverty and lack of prospects.
Notable quotes/parts: I found this sequence hilarious. “I think I might have done permanent damage.” I nearly flew to the sink and turned the spigot handle. “Quick.” She stumbled toward me, then held out the sagging stumps of her melted arms.
This is the first time Jack shows up to assist Miss Volker, He walks in to find her with her hands inside a pot on top of the gas stove with the flames on and her face all screwed up in agony. She lifted her hands out of the pot and they were melting. I hesitated, but there was nothing else to do except run away screaming, so I grabbed what I thought were her wrists. The warm, lifeless flesh squished between my fingers as I tugged her forward and held her ruined hands under the water. “The sticky stuff on my arms,” she said impatiently, and then she held a rounded stump up to her mouth, bit off a cooked chunk, and spit it into the trash. I staggered back a few steps and by then my nose was spewing like an elephant bathing himself.
There are things happening in this novel and I am sure that some of them are of the aforementioned “wildly fictional” variety. Not that it matters, and here is the second surprise: exactly that it doesn’t matter.
And I loved the novel, just as it is: a semi-autobiographical novel featuring Hells Angels, a bunch of dead senior citizens, obituaries that are also history lessons, under-age driving and shooting, dysfunctional families that are also awesome families, copious amount of blood coming out of the main character’s nose, cold-war bunker building and much more.
With each obituary she writes, she connects the dead person with Norvelt’s (or the World’s) history thereby making each obituary, a history lesson.
Jack, who is passionate about reading history books becomes entranced with each session he has with Miss Volker and the two become friends.
The “much more” is perhaps what is the most surprising when trying to understand why I loved the novel so much because usually I am the type of reader that believes that “less is better” when it comes to realistic YA.