The two best things about Jack Gantos's grotesque, tragicomic, and nostalgic Dead End in Norvelt
are its lively young narrator, Jack Gantos, and Norvelt, his town - a New Deal homestead community on the skids in Pennsylvania (see sidebar). The summer of 1962 filtered through Jack's psyche (and registered by his emotional-barometer/lie-detector bleeding nose) is sad, funny, and unforgettable.
Grounded for the summer, Jack's adventure begins when his mother "loans" him to Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor in need. Miss Volker's arthritic hands no longer permit her to type the obituaries she writes for the Norvelt News
: "When Mrs. Roosevelt hired me to be the chief nurse and medical examiner of this town I was given a typewriter so I could keep health records on the original two hundred and fifty families. Now it's my closing tribute to Mrs. Roosevelt that I...
Beyond the Book
"Our dear little Norvelt was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, who knew common people like us wanted equality..."
The town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, one of 99 subsistence homestead communities created during the Depression for unemployed workers, is a character in Jack Gantos's Dead End in Norvelt
. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
, the idea behind this residential area "was for each homesteader to become independent of government help, and for each cooperative community to eventually become self-supporting... Each family got a 1.6- to 7-acre plot, a house, a garage, a chicken coop, fruit trees and a grape arbor, as well as a stove, refrigerator and farming tools." Today, a historical marker still in the area describes its history: