REVIEW: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

46. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 13, 2011), ARC, ~400pp / ISBN 0374379939
Genre: YA Fiction

Read: May 27, 2011
Source: BEA 2011

This title will be released on September 13, 2011.

Summary from Amazon:

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 about a small western Pennsylvania town is the author at his very best, making readers laugh at the most shocking 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.


When I picked this up from a booth at BEA, I recognized Jack Gantos’ name but couldn’t recall where I had heard it before. Turns out I had another Gantos book waiting to be read back home– Jack’s New Power, part of the same series that Dead End in Norvelt belongs to (at least I think it’s part of the same series).

I pretty much powered through Norvelt on the plane ride back from BEA. I ended up reading Jack’s New Power once I got home, but I’m glad I read Dead End in Norvelt first, actually. It’s got better writing, funnier characters, and a more interesting story. I’m a sucker for YA books set during the summer, probably because it reminds me of my own childhood summers. Of course, I never did any of the things Jack does in this book, not only because the book is set in the 1950s but also because I’ve never been in the middle of a murder spree, the friend of a fiesty old lady, or grounded for more than a day.

I have, however, lived in a town that was slowly dying, and that was one of the most interesting parts of the book for me. Books set in dying towns always seem to have an edge of bitterness to them, but Norvelt never did. It was more like a tribute to Norvelt (and small town America) than an obituary, and I really appreciated that. The history of a town is an important thing, and just because a town is slowing falling into the abyss doesn’t mean it’s suddenly less interesting or special. That applies to (old) people as well– and I think Norvelt showed that pretty well, too.

The only downside to Norvelt was the ending. It fit in with the rest of the book in that it was an oddball and strange ending, but at the same time it was a little bit TOO lighthearted. Norvelt is a funny book, but it’s also serious in parts that needed to be serious, and I think the ending should have been a bit more serious than it was.


Really and truly enjoyed it. Recommended for anyone who likes summertime books!


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Other reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine: “I really enjoyed Dead End In Norvelt. It’s quite witty and of course, gave me nostalgia for a time when things were simpler, never mind that my mom wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye when this book takes place (1962, she was born 1963).”

A Fuse #8 Production: “Some folks will be turned off by the less than enticing details surrounding the book. The dead bodies, the blood that pours from Jack’s nose like a faucet, etc. Others will be fine with that but will find the ending of the story a bit darker than they’d expected. I had no problems with any of these, and I don’t think most kids will either. What I did have a small problem with was the fact that though the book is set in the post-WWII era, Jack is one heckuva forward thinking guy. The kind of kid who sides with the Aztecs when he reads about their slaughter at the hands of the Spaniards. I’d like to think that the kid would be that liberal in his history reading, but frankly I’m not so sure. I mean, it’s not like he has that many influences in his life that would inform such thoughts. His father, sure as heck, wouldn’t be encouraging Jack to think that way. Dunno. Seemed a bit out of place in an otherwise consistent novel.”

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  1. This sounds really kooky and fun. I’ll keep my eye out for it. I miss summer as a YA too. :(

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