Book Review: Dead End in Norvelt
By Jack Gantos
Dead End in Norvelt is the winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal for the year’s best contribution to children’s literature and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction!
Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets.
But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his Utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
Quirky. Weird. Bizarre.
Just because I said this is a strange novel doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. There were points when I really laughed and other parts when I was disturbed by the attitudes of prejudice.
Jack, presumably the author, in a fictionalized account growing up in a small town faces several trials. A trial Jack faces is being a pawn in his parent’s feud. It’s unfortunate that may kids would relate, of course now the parents would be getting divorced, but in Norvelt of the 60’s that would have been unusual. Being odd and excluded in another trial in Jack’s life. He is odd because he has frequent nose bleeds and feels excluded. He is further excluded by his punishment of being grounded for the summer for mowing down his mother’s field of corn. I wouldn’t exactly call this a coming of age story because Jack is still making stupid decisions by the end of the book, however, he recognized that he has made another blunder.
The funniest moment in Dead End in Norvelt is when Jack is out with Miss Volker trying to discover if one of the original occupants of the city has died. Miss Volker had decided that Jack should wear a disguise so he wouldn’t be recognized. Jack is now wearing his previous Halloween costume, the Grim Reaper, and is exploring the house gingerly looking for a dead old woman. He happens upon her body in front of the blaring TV. As he talks to her comatose body she suddenly sits upright and begins questioning Jack, the Grim Reaper. After negotiating with him that she is still alive and would like him to return in two weeks after her grandson’s birthday she offers him tea. As Jack tells Miss Volker about the encounter she exclaims, “When I write her obituary make sure I mention she invited the Grim Reaper to tea. That reveals good upbringing, don’t you think?”
That was a long explanation, hopefully you find it funny too.
Some of the things that bothered me were how the Japanese are referred to derogatorily. I recognize that these were WWII vets and harbored negative feelings from the war. The book also highlights the feeling about the cold war through Jack’s father who fears the commies are going to come to take over America.
It may sound funny, but I also didn’t like how Jack uses fake cursing in the book. Even his mother calls him on it and he stops. The other funny thing I didn’t like was the sections about how “farting would scare the deer away”. Boys find things like this hilarious, but I don’t.
Overall, I felt like there was so much crammed into the book that it stretched my willing suspension of disbelief to the limit. I don’t know if kids reading the book will get bogged down by the historical facts peppered through the entire book in obits and from Jack’s reading in his igloo built from books. It seems like an unusual pick as a Newberry Award winner, but it is well written and shows a very different perspective.
- the Mother