Sue Leatherman's Reviews > Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
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Mar 04, 12

bookshelves: newbery-award, obituaries, teenage-boy, eleanor-roosevelt, bomb-shelters, humor
Read from March 01 to 02, 2012

School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it. (1)

This sounds like a typical beginning for a story about a 12-year old boy, right? You may think so, but imagine that you are on a rollercoaster just about to reach the crest of the highest peak and then, “WOOSH!” First day on the job that his mother has arranged for him, Jack Gantos meets Miss Volker, an elderly neighbor who boils her hands in molten wax!

“Oh, Mercy!” I cried, and fidgeted up and down like a terrified squirrel. “Miss Volker, what have you done to yourself?”

She stumbled toward me, then held out the sagging stumps of her melted arms. I hesitated, but there was nothing else to do except run away screaming, so I grabbed what I thought were her wrists. Oh cheeze! The warm, lifeless flesh squished between my fingers as I tugged her forward and held her ruined hands under the water. (25)

Excited yet? That’s only the beginning of Jack’s wild summer adventure!

His mom and dad are quarrelling with each other and he’s stuck in the middle digging a bomb shelter.

“Yep, we need a bomb shelter. The Russian Commies say they’re planning to bury us.” (51)

The older citizens of Norvelt are dropping like flies and Miss Volker expects Jack to type up their obituaries! How much can one guy take?

Old Mr. Spizz, the self-appointed neighborhood watchdog, rides around on his giant tricycle handing out citations and warnings. And the then there’s the Hells Angels who ride into town burning down houses and terrorizing everyone!

This is not a teenage boy’s “typical” summer story. It's better.
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I picked up a copy of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos when the announcement came that it had won the Newbery Award. I read the general description of the story and decided to begin reading it that evening. By the end of the third chapter, my sides were aching from so much laughter!

It’s a wonderful adventure and we are introduced to some pretty odd characters. Throughout the story we read snippets of history and learn some important truths thru Jack’s sometimes misguided attempts to do the right thing.

Although the ending seemed a bit contrived, I really enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it as a must read for everyone.
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