Summary and book reviews of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Book Summary

A sly, sharp-edged narrative about a small western Pennsylvania town and 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.

Melding the entirely true and the wildly fictional, Dead End in Norvelt is the story of an incredible two months for a boy named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation adventure are suddenly ruined when he is grounded by his feuding parents for what seems like forever. But escape comes where Jack least expects it, once his mom loans him out to help an elderly neighbor with a most unusual chore - a chore involving the newly dead, molten wax, twisted promises, Girl Scout cookies, underage driving, lessons from history, obituaries, Hells Angels, and countless bloody noses.

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.

Ages 10-14

1

School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it. I was holding a pair of camouflage Japanese WWII binoculars to my eyes and focusing across her newly planted vegetable garden, and her cornfield, and over ancient Miss Volker's roof, and then up the Norvelt road, and past the brick bell tower on my school, and beyond the Community Center, and the tall silver whistle on top of the volunteer fire department to the most distant dark blue hill, which is where the screen for the Viking drive-in movie theater had recently been erected. Down by my feet I had laid out all the Japanese army souvenirs Dad had shipped home from the war. He had been in the navy, and after a Pacific island invasion in the Solomons he and some other sailor buddies had blindly crawled around at night and found a bunker of dead Japanese soldiers half buried in the sand. They stripped ...

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?

Friendship

  • 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?

  • ...
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  • award image

    The John Newbery Medal
    2012

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Young readers will find Jack authentic and funny - especially his embarrassing nose. What will they make of the Utopian community's history or the frequent references to Eleanor Roosevelt? I don't know. But Gantos's obit to Norvelt is too real and too interesting for that to matter much.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Full Review Members Only (567 words).

Media Reviews

School Library Journal

A fast-paced and witty read.

Booklist

Gantos, as always, deliver bushels of food for thought and plenty of outright guffaws... Those with a nose for history will be especially pleased.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Memorable in every way. Ages 10–14.

The Horn Book

Starred Review. There's more than laugh-out-loud gothic comedy here. This is a richly layered semi-autobiographical tale, an ode to a time and place, to history and the power of reading.

Author Blurb Dave Barry
This is a brilliant book, full of history, mystery, and laughs. It reminded me of my small-town childhood, although my small town was never as delightfully weird as Norvelt.

Reader Reviews

Juan Sepulveda

Awesome
The book Dead End In Norvelt is a great book it is very much worth the time and the money.

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Beyond the Book

Welcome to Norvelt, PA

"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:

...

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