Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #49: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
Checking out the Newberry award winners’ shelf at the library while little Pug browsed the Garfield collection, I saw Jack Gantos’ Dead in Norvelt. I picked it up for a quick read and enjoyed it a great deal. It’s a clever coming-of-age-meets-mystery story that feels both familiar and unique.
The novel features a semi-fictional young Jack Gantos who finds himself grounded for the entire summer, primarily as a result of the tension between his parents. His father has big dreams for himself and the family, including moving out of the dying small town of Norvelt and heading south to Florida, while his mother is practical, frugal, and devoted to Norvelt and its aging population. Because he’s grounded, Jack actually looks forward to being released to help Mrs. Volker, one of the original Norvelters, as she writes the obituaries of the town’s other original residents. Mrs. Volker is still bright and active, but arthritis has left her hands virtually useless, so she needs Jack to type up her obituaries. Once a nurse, she also tries to help Jack with his chronic nosebleeds. All seems normal at first in the aging town that Eleanor Roosevelt helped establish as a kind of egalitarian utopia, but then some of the deaths begin to seem suspicious, and Jack is pulled into a mystery.
The book features many themes that seem familiar, such as the head-in-the-clouds father and the hardworking, down-to-earth mother, which make the more bizarre moments (and the story does get quite bizarre by the end) more believable. Kids will enjoy the twists and turns of the mystery, but there’s more going on under the surface. The book says a lot about family dynamics and the values of small towns. I could understand Jack’s mother love for Norvelt and felt for those characters who wanted to preserve their little Utopia, but I also felt sorry for Jack’s father and understood why he felt trapped there. The book was gave me the good, quick read I wanted.