DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos
Gantos, Jack. 2011. DEAD END IN NORVELT. Harrisburg, VA: RR Donnelley & Sons. ISBN: 0689847319
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Twelve-year old Jack Gantos is grounded for the summer. He lives in a small town in Norvelt, Pennsylvania where his boring summer turns into a crazy two-month period of writing obituaries for an old neighbor, learning to drive a car, constantly making his parents crazy, and finding himself right in the middle of a murder mystery that has shaken the town to its very roots.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Gantos takes the reader back to the 1960’s and to a place where he personally grew up. The town of Norvelt is like many small towns back in this era. People helped other people because it was the right thing to do, yet the ability for a better future was a common problem, and is still to this day. For many, moving to a bigger city was the only way to have a better life, even if it meant leaving home for good. But, to Jack’s father, Norvlet was a “dead end” town that was slowly dying. And like many people during the 1960s, times were hard and having more money was a constant ambition. As Jack’s dad so eloquently put it, “Someday I want to live a life where I won’t be bullied by my wallet.” The people of Norvelt are quite colorful in their personalities. Miss Volkner, Jack’s elderly neighbor that has severe arthritis is unable to use her hands anymore, so she heats them up on the stove by covering them in hot wax until it’s literally melting off. She also knows a lot of the history of Norvelt as she was one of the original settlers of the town. The reader is given a mini-history lesson through Miss Norvelt’s obituaries, such as when she talks about the elderly women of the town being widows at a young age because their husbands died from Black Lung disease due to working in the coal mines. Mr. Spizz, the self-appointed gutter-patrol and policeman, is a cranky old man who is justly named the “town irritant” by Miss Volker. He is a constant thorn-in-your- side to most of the community and he couldn’t care less. Jack himself is a likable character that many boys his age can relate to. And, as much as Jack tries not to get into trouble it seems to find him wherever he goes. He also has a “little problem” of having nose bleeds when he gets nervous or scared, which seems to happen a lot in this story.
Gantos brings the life and times of the 1960s back to life along with some hilarious and heartfelt moments that make this book a fun, surprising, and an educational read. Boys will especially enjoy this historical fiction book with Jack's interest in World War II memorabilia, his run-ins with the dead, and hilarious dialogue. This book is great to share with young readers ages 10 and up who are being introduced to US history and love a funny and intriguing story.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
2012 NEWBERY AWARD WINNER FOR BEST CONTRIBUTION TO CHILDREN’S LIT.
SCOTT O’DELL AWARD WINNER FOR HISTORICAL FICTION
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “A fast-paced and witty read.”
THE HORN BOOK starred review: “There’s more than laugh-out-loud gothic comedy here. This is a richly layered semi-autobiographical tale, an ode to a time and place, to history and the power of reading.”
BOOKLIST: “Gantos, as always, delivers bushels of food for thought and plenty of outright guffaws.”
* This book is great to share with younger readers to share a lesson on U.S. history.
*Collect other books written by Jack Gantos: HEADS OR TAILS: STORIES FROM THE SIXTH GRADE, JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY, JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL, HOLE IN MY LIFFE, I AM NOT JOEY PIGZA, JACK’S NEW POWER: STORIES FROM A CARIBBEAN YEAR, JACK’S BLACK BOOK, JACK ADRIFT: FOURTH GRADE WITHOUT A CLUE and JACK ON THE TRACKS: FOUR SEASONS OF FIFTH GRADE.
*Other U.S. historical fiction books with young children as the main character:
Bell, William. ALMA: A NOVEL. ISBN: 978-0770429409
Bornstein, Ruth L. BUTTERFLIES AND LIZARDS, BERYL AND ME. ISBN: 978-0761451181
Reynolds, Cynthia F. ACROSS THE REACH. ISBN: 978-1587265181