Reading guide for Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

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Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 352 pages
    May 2013, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Family Relationships

  • Describe Jack's family

  • Jack is punished by his mom for shooting his dad's rifle and for mowing down her cornfield. Discuss how he is the victim in both incidents.

  • Jack's parents try to convince him that they work as a team. Debate whether there is any teamwork in the Gantos family.

  • Cite evidence that Jack's mom "wears the pants in the family."

  • Which of Jack's parents does he most respect?


  • Discuss Jack's reputation among his peers.

  • Bunny Huffer is Jack's best friend. Trace their relationship from the beginning of the novel to the end.

  • At first, Jack is simply Miss Volker's scribe. At what point does he become her friend?

  • How does Bunny regard Jack's relationship with Miss Volker?

  • Discuss the relationship between Mr. Spizz and Miss Volker.

  • Mr. Spizz enjoys pestering Jack. Debate whether he is jealous of Jack's relationship with Miss Volker.


  • Norvelt is a New Deal community that was built to give "hardworking poor people a helping hand" (p. 54). Why does Jack's dad call it a "Commie" town?

  • Discuss Miss Volker's commitment to the town.

  • Debate whether Norvelt has lost its true sense of community.

  • What does Mrs. Gantos miss most about the "old" Norvelt? How is she trying to instill a sense of community in Jack?

  • Discuss how a town can change without changing its sense of community.


  • Jack tells his mother that his dad made him mow down the corn. Why does he feel that squealing on his dad was a cowardly thing to do?

  • Anytime that Jack is anxious or fearful, his nose bleeds. How does it take courage to let Miss Volker operate on his nose?

  • Explain how Bunny contributes to Jack's fears. How does she also help him gain courage?

  • What is Jack's most courageous act in the novel?


  • Explain what Mrs. Gantos means when she tells Jack, "Remember, a person first lies to himself before he lies to others" (pp. 207-8).

  • Jack tells his parents that he didn't put the bullet in teh rifle. Why does it take Mr. Gantos a while to admit that Jack is telling the truth?

  • Who are the most honest and trustworthy characters in the novel?

  • Discuss the most dishonest characters. How do they lie to themselves and to the entire community?

Growing Up

  • At different times in the novel, Bunny and Miss Volker tell Jack that he needs to be a man. How might their definition of a man differ?

  • In what ways is Jack's father still a boy? Debate whether this interferes with Jack's journey toward manhood.

  • At what point in the novel does Jack begin to understand his role as a man? Which character is most responsible for his coming of age?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Square Fish. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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