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Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
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's review
Jun 11, 2012

it was amazing

Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2011. Ages 10+.

Dead End in Norvelt , by Jack Gantos, follows 12 year old Jack as he discovers that his own freedom for the summer depends on his community, because he has been “grounded for life” for accidentally discharging his father’s WWII rifle. Quickly realizing that the only way he will survive the grounding is by helping his quirky elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, he agrees to write obituaries for the dwindling residents of Norvelt, because her arthritic hands prevent her from doing so by herself. It becomes apparent that not only are the residents dying off, but the town of Norvelt itself, as an experiment in post-depression era socialism, is nearing its end, too. Capitalism has already crept its way into the mind of Jack’s father, who dreams of someday soon abandoning the town, which he frequently derides as “full of commies”, for a more bourgeois life, while Jack’s mother still clings to the original values that the town was founded on: collectivist food sharing, sustainable farming, and bartering for services. Despite the disagreement about the nature of the town, Jack understands that he must please both of his parents, and this often drops him right in the middle of an absurd situation, such as cutting down his mother’s beloved cornfield to make room for his father’s prized landing strip. The family tension causes him to have frequent nosebleeds, triggered by the slightest hint of excitement, although the endless brown stains on his shirts have ceased to bother him by the time Miss Volker steps up and cauterizes his nose with some old veterinary equipment. Through her Jack is able to see the town the way its namesake, Eleanor Roosevelt, envisioned it. That said, Gantos does establish that modern changes in the modes of production and exchange have indeed been creeping their way into this bizarre town. Although it is fuzzy exactly how the past and present link up, thoughtfully chosen snippets of history, introduced through Jack’s geeky interest in books, highlight events that foreshadow the ideas that lead to what might eventually be the demise of Jack’s unusual utopia. This book is bizarrely humorous.

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