Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

When I picked up Dead End in Norvelt, I knew nothing about towns like Norvelt, Pennsylvania. What I did know about were books by Jack Gantos, especially his Joey Pigza series, a personal favorite. And after the first few chapters, I became more familiar with what I already knew. In the first six chapters alone there’s an accidentally fired Japanese WWII rifle, blood all over the place, an old lady cooking her hands and taking a bite, and a great fart scene*.

What’s not to like?

Then I started to learn about Norvelt, a town created to give disadvantaged people and families a chance for a new life during the Great Depression as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act. These homestead communities were championed by Eleanor Roosevelt and were built on the idea of cooperation between residents. The town’s name itself honors Mrs. Roosevelt, eleaNOR rooseVELT.

Don’t worry. Dead End in Norvelt did win the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, but it’s no history book.

Jack gets grounded during the summer of 1962. (His grounding has to do with the Japanese WWII rifle, among other transgressions.) His only escape is helping his neighbor, Miss Volker, an original Norvelter, write obituaries for the town’s original residents. Most of the men have died, victims of black lung disease, but now the ladies are dying, and dying rather quickly. When the town starts getting suspicious, readers quickly start to see numerous suspects.

What’s the motive? Could it be jealousy? Love? Greed? Could all the deaths be accidental? And what will Jack do now that he’s found himself in the middle of it?

I see three main parts of the book. The first third is all about Jack, his parents, and Miss Volker. The middle expands to include more about the other community members. The last third turns murder mystery. Now that you know, pay close attention as your read the first two-thirds, knowing there’s a mystery to solve. It makes everyone more suspicious and the book that much more enjoyable.

When you get your copy of Dead End in Norvelt, make sure to locate a copy of the sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere, as well. This is one of those books that you won’t want to end, and one of the rare times that the sequel lives up to its award-winning predecessor.

*Ha! When I went back to edit what I wrote, I found that I had mistakenly typed scene as scent. This doesn’t affect my review in the slightest, but considering the context . . . Well, I thought it was funny. Thought I'd share.

1 comment:

  1. Set in an earlier age, in a simple place, the main character is a shy, pubescent boy who negotiates his way through a world populated by old ladies his rather unreliable father, his stern mother and his best friend- the undertaker's tom boy daughter.

    This was a good listen for a relaxing time. Highly recommended.


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