Review of “Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos

This is supposed to be a middle grade novel, but I enjoyed it immensely myself. It provides a look back on the early Sixties from a young boy’s point of view, and I didn’t feel it was too simplistic for an adult in the least. I listened in the car (the author reads it himself) and often found myself laughing out loud and repeating anecdotes later to my husband as if it were about a boy we both knew.

The book is touted as semi-autobiographical, sharing with us one memorable summer in 1962 for 11 year-old Jack Gantos, who was grounded for almost the entire period. The only time he was allowed out was to help an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Volker, who composed the local obituaries. As it turned out, Jack got out quite a bit, since all the old ladies in town were dying mysteriously.

Mrs. Volker likes to combine her obituaries with history lessons, so we learn a lot about “this day in history” along with Jack, and how the lessons of the past apply to the present. We also learn about the irony of Jack’s particular situation in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, where people were caught up in taking advantage of the opportunities of capitalism while constantly reviling the threat of the “Commies.” The funny part was that Norvelt (named for EleaNOR RooseVELT) is a real town that was created during the depression by the US government as a model “socialist” community, intended to increase the standard of living of laid-off coal miners.

It is hard not to get caught up in Jack’s enthusiasm as he gets excited over all that he is learning, and when he begins an amateur sleuthing effort to solve the mystery of the rash of deaths in the town. By the end of the summer, he has learned some great lessons about life, and won our hearts as well.

Evaluation: This is a joyous book that will appeal to kids of all ages, including the adult kind.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a division of Macmillan, 2011


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9 Responses to Review of “Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I just got this from Fiction Addiction the week before last so I’m glad to see you loved it. Since it’s set in 1962, it sounds right up my alley!

  2. zibilee says:

    This does sound different than a lot of the other YA that’s out there, and it also sounds like a lot of fun. I think I would probably really like this one, and really get along with Jack as well. Great review today, Jill. I am adding this one to my list!

  3. Now that is just fun! I enjoy a good middle grade read now and then and am actually surprised in many cases how much I enjoy them.

  4. sandynawrot says:

    There are days when I really want to regress to this age. Now would be one of those times. I really want to read this one, joyful is good for the holidays!

  5. Julie P. says:

    I so want to read/listen to this one after reading your review!

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    I love audios read by the authors! This looks like a fun car book.

  7. Jenners says:

    I love that you talked about the character like it was someone you knew in real life. That is the best kind of book!

  8. Gantos is a fun writer. I loved his Joey Pigza series!

  9. sounds funny..but then in many ways I am a middle grade person in spirit. I have to check it out.

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