Dead End in Norvelt

Winner of the 2012 Newbery Medal

Written by Jack Gantos

Young Jack feels like he’s hit a dead end in life when he is grounded forever by his quarrelsome parents for shooting an old rifle. His dead-end-life continues as he is forced by his mother to help his old neighbor, obituary writer and undertaker Miss Volker. The eccentric old folks in the town of Norvelt are dying off and as Jack helps write the obituaries, because Miss Volker’s arthritis makes is so she cannot write, we get a sense of the town’s history. Whenever he is stressed, which seems to happen through most of this book, Jack suffers from explosive nosebleeds and his blood is always covering everything. Through the summer, and his association with Miss Volker, Jack grows up and learns that knowing history is important and that he’s getting too old to keep on doing “stupid stuff.” This is an endearing coming-of-age story.

Review by Althea Bennett, Wasatch Jr. High Media Center
Rating: ★★★★✩ (4 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 5+

Jack Gantos – Website

Dead End in Norvelt
Written by Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus Giroux
341 pages
Release Date: September 13, 2011
ISBN: 9780374379933 (hardcover)

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3 thoughts on “Dead End in Norvelt”

  1. While a great story and even better with all the history that was thrown in…it was not an award winner. I kept reading but could have put it down and forgotten to pick up quite easily.

  2. Throwing my review up here as well –

    3.5 Stars — At all times a pleasant read, this book gives a slice-of-life of American small town childhood in the early 1960s.  However, it is an exaggerated, eccentric slice of life.  It feels like a collection of remembrances and anecdotes of the type one often hears from professional storytellers, strung together into a book-length narrative.  The characters and the town itself are richly rendered in the book, and over time spent reading I became so enveloped in the world of the book that it did cause me to want to come back to the book again and again to read additional chapters.  I say that the world was enveloping because otherwise the book was not a page-turner; I never felt any great imperative to”find out what happens next” because for a good portion of the book not much was happening that had any kind of high stakes for the characters. The narrative is full of quirky, funny, and thoughtful moments.  I’m sure a lot of these sly subtleties stand up well upon repeated readings and bring additional insights, and this premise helps me understand why the Newbery committee was so taken with this book.  Additionally, I’m betting the book provides a hefty dose of nostalgia for readers of the Baby Boomer generation, and nostalgia is a powerful ingredient.

    Overall, this a quality book, but its lack of a strong plot and the old-fashioned atmosphere make me reluctant to recommend it to very many young readers.  I would more readily recommend it to people of my parents’ generation who are yearning for something slightly fun and nostalgic.

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