Dead End In Norvelt by Jack Gantos book review

I hesitate to put a negative book review on my blog for many reasons. I keep coming back to the fact that not everyone likes the same books, and that’s what makes a diverse literary world. This book won the Newbery Award, which means an entire board disagrees with me!

And that’s ok. Because it reminds me it’s not about the rewards. It’s about the readers and the impacts I make on the individual. Don’t mistake me, a Newbery would be awesome! But I would love for someone to tell me how my works impacted them personally.


Summary: Like a bullet shot from an old Japanese rifle, Jack Gantos’ summer is over the moment it begins. Grounded for playing with his dad’s WWII “souvenirs” and for mowing down his mom’s corn, Jack must find what fun he can in helping Miss Volker write obituaries. When the obituaries increase in number and frequency the little Norvelt town begins to buzz with suspicion of murder.

Characters:  I could not swallow Mom and Dad’s relationship with each other or with Jack. Jack’s parents forced him between themselves about the corn. The parents could not be more opposite from each other. Mom loved Norvelt and had old fashioned views while Dad had a fear of Commies and wanted to fly away. The book ends with Dad and Jack throwing balloons of red paint at the outdoor movie screen, “I knew that being a jerk in the airplane and scaring people was really stupid. And being stupid at that moment would forever be a part of who I was.” The buildup of Mr. Spizz killing off the rest of the original Norveters read well enough, but by that point I couldn’t really figure out what the point of the plot and characters were and it all became jumbled together. The plot is character-driven, so I think both are poorly done because there didn’t seem to be a defined medium for the theme. The historical and political talk read too seriously to place with characters and a plot that wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Plot: My initial thoughts on the novel: Aside from the frustrating characters, it seemed there were a few subplots not very successfully intertwined. Jack’s odd relationship with his parents and unfortunate grounding ruins his summer as a child who plays baseball, and almost destroys his relationship with his only good friend. Then the relationship he builds with Miss Volker is interesting, but weird when people start teasing him about being her boyfriend. Finally, the ladies all dying so quickly and close together seemed very forced. Gantos writes the deaths in subtly at first, but then all of a sudden the remaining ladies die off so quickly it’s obvious someone is murdering them. It’s as if Gantos realized the relationship he built between Jack and Miss Volker wasn’t really that interesting, though the historical aspects were, so he stuffed in a murder mystery. After reading some reviews, I realize it’s supposed to be a comedy. Seeing the relationships and murders as satire or hyperbole helps in retrospect, but it was completely lost on me while reading it.

What are your thoughts?