Gantos, Jack. 2011. Dead End in Norvelt. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 9780374379933.
2. Plot Summary
Summer starts with a bang for Jack – grounded for accidentally firing his father’s WWII rifle and mowing down his mother’s cornfield, Jack now faces a summer of solitude and chores. His one relief? Helping his elderly neighbor write obituaries for the quickly-dwindling original inhabitants of Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Founded by Eleanor Roosevelt as part of the New Deal, Norvelt was once a thriving community-centered coal mining town, but now faces its imminent death. But one question hangs over the summer: Why do people keep dying?
3. Critical Analysis
Dead End in Norvelt is exactly that – a dead end. Boring from page one, there was nothing about this story to hold my attention. The characters and setting were entirely unrelatable. The story advances at a snail’s pace, with the main problem of the story not becoming apparent until well past the half-way mark of a 341 page study in triviality.
While accuracy may be the most important part of historical fiction – and this story certainly excels in that aspect – works in the genre should be more than a fictionalized history book.
4. Review Excerpts
2012 – Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award
2012 – Newbery Medal
2012 – ALA Notable Books for Children
2011 – Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book
From School Library Journal: “Students will identify the causes of the Great Depression, its impact on Americans, and the major features of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.”
From Booklist: “When things pick up again near the end of the summer, surprise twists and even a quick-dissolve murder mystery arrive to pay off patient readers.”
From Publishers Weekly: “Gradually, Jackie learns to face death and his fears straight on while absorbing Miss Volker’s theories about the importance of knowing history.”
-Recommend to patient American history lovers
(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)