Dead End in Norvelt
Dead End in Norvelt
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Jack Gantos
ISBN 9780374379933
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan, 2011.
2012 Newbery Medal, 2012 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction
5 stars
Keywords: 1960s dead-end-norvelt eleanor-roosevelt family homestead-communities jack-gantos

Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos

Jack Gantos’s (Joey Pigza Loses Control) Newbery-winning novel, both humorous and heartwarming, introduces us to Norvelt, Penn., created by the U.S. government as a model community after the closing of its coalmines. It’s set during the summer of 1962, when narrator Jack turns 12 and spends most of his days grounded. Jack’s main “get out of jail free card,” and one of the novel’s most charming characters, is Miss Volker. The blossoming of their friendship coincides with the blooming of Jack’s character.

Miss Volcker, the town historian and medical examiner, suffers from acute arthritis. So she dictates the obituaries to Jack, who types them up, takes them to the newspaper editor, and places a pin on the house of the deceased on her map of Norvelt. As the Norvelters start to go (faster than anticipated), no new families move in to take their places. Miss Volker does her part, by selling her sister’s home to a “nice young man.” Except that he turns out to be a Hell’s Angel, is accidentally run down by a ten-ton cement truck, and his friends return to take their revenge on the town.

Jack often feels caught between a mother who loves Norvelt and all it stands for, and his father, a WWII veteran who sees the dying town as a “dead end.” Jack and Miss Volker’s relationship gives the boy a fresh perspective. Her love of history is infectious, and her respect for Jack and her belief in him as a hope for the future allows him to believe in himself.

This review originally appeared on Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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