Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos urges us to consider our history so we do not repeat the same mistakes.
Miss Volker, the spicy old woman who delievers countless life lessons to young Jack as she dictates the dying town's most recent obituary, is a curator of history. For each new death, she's able to find connection and make meaning by attaching a historical significance not only to the person's life, but to our collective history. Through this, she reminds me that we are all inter-connected in a myriad of ways.
Jack undergoes a series of adventures from his dad's rebuild of a WWII fighter plane to a death threat from a menacing Hell's Angel who rides into town. Over the course of one summer, Jack learns, "The reason you remind yourself of the stupid stuff you've done in the past is so you don't do it again...." But, history is more than about not repeating your own mistakes.
As Miss Volker dictates to Jack in an especially poingnant obituary for the town's librarian,
When the sun goes down each day it turns its back on the present and steps into the past...but it is never dead. History is a form of nature, like the mountains and sea and sky...but every living soul is a book of their own history, which sits on the ever-growing shelf in the library of human memories."
Books, dear Will, reading and storytelling. These are the gifts our history has bestowed upon our peculiar race. Some quirk of evolution or act of God elected that humans be gifted with a collective memory through literature and history. My hope for you is that you embrace the moments when you recognize a part of yourself in a book or someone else's life. In these moments, we feel a tremendous connection where we can never be alone or lonely and we relate to others through empathy. If there is one trait I wish for you above all else it's empathy.