Book Review: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt

I read this book for my Literature & Media for Children class. I am using it for the Eclectic Reader Challenge (Historical mystery), Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge, Bookworm Bitches 2013 A-Z Title Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, and Book Club Friday.

Summary from Goodreads: 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. Endlessly surprising, this sly, sharp-edged narrative is the author at his very best, making readers laugh out loud at the most unexpected things in a dead-funny depiction of growing up in a slightly off-kilter place where the past is present, the present is confusing, and the future is completely up in the air.

My review for my class: While Dead End in Norvelt is most certainly a work of fiction, it is partly autobiographical as its setting is the actual town where the author grew up. Jack Gantos also lends his name to the main character, a 12-year-old boy with a nose bleed problem who is grounded for the summer. Despite his punishment, Jack has a very entertaining summer while assisting the town medical examiner, Miss Volker, in writing obituaries and performing other tasks such as burying dead rats! So much history is infused into this young adult novel, from the Landmark history books Jack reads, to the “This Day in History” column in the local newspaper, to the historical stories Miss Volker weaves into the obituaries she writes. Preteen boys in particular will love this book, which won both a Newbery Medal and Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, for both its humor and murder mystery plot.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. I can see how this book would appeal to preteen boys, but it didn’t to me! I can’t exactly pinpoint what I didn’t like about it, maybe the author’s writing style or voice. And I thought Jack’s parents were awful! His dad made him do stuff that he knew would get him in trouble with his mom, and his mom grounded him for something his dad made him do! Ugh.



1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Books Read in 2013 | I Like Big Books

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