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Sonderbooks Book Review of

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos


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Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos

Reviewed March 14, 2012.
Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2011. 341 pages.
Starred Review
2012 Newbery Medal

It's refreshing to read a book set in the Sixties that is not about the Cuban Missile Crisis or Vietnam! This book is about a kid's strange and interesting summer. It's surprising how much fun our hero Jack Gantos has, considering that he's grounded the whole summer. Or at least, we readers have fun reading about it.

The most interesting things happen because Jack is asked to help his neighbor, the ancient Miss Volker. Miss Volker has terrible arthritis, so she needs Jack's help to type up obituaries for the original residents of Norvelt, who seem to all be dying quickly this summer. Miss Volker tacks on a surprisingly interesting history to each obituary, and she knows relevant details about each resident.

On top of that, we've got Jack driving Miss Volker's car around town. His Dad building an airplane and a runway. His Mom monitoring his behavior. His best friend, the daughter of the funeral parlor owner, teasing him about his fear of dead bodies. And then there's Jack's nose:

How could I forget? I was a nosebleeder. The moment something startled me or whenever I got overexcited or spooked about any little thing blood would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames.

There's a lot of death in Dead End in Norvelt, including a Hell's Angel who gets hit by a truck in town. But Jack Gantos the author manages to keep things funny. He gives us a great yarn about a kid just trying to stay out of trouble, and managing to learn lots along the way.