Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review and Giveaway: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

The Audio Book 

I received Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos as an audiobook from Macmillan Audio. This is written for a middle school audience and some parts of the book are written as experiences from the author’s childhood. There is an interview at the end of disc six which can be either listened to on a CD player or viewed as a video interview when inserted in your computer.  Despite the fact it is written for a middle school audience, it can be enjoyed by all ages.  Jack Gantos has written an absolutely hilarious and brilliant book about murder, mayhem and blood in a small town where nothing is supposed to happen.

The Review

Dead End in Norvelt written and narrated by Jack Gantos.  Ironically, the main character in his book is also named Jack Gantos.  Jack is twelve years old, growing up in the early 1960s and grounded for the entire summer.   He gets grounded after mowing down his mom’s corn stalks and shooting at loaded gun at a war movie he is viewing that is steaming a short distance away at the drive-in theater near his home.  
Young Jack is a boy who loves reading about history, watching war movies and playing with his Dad’s war trophies.  Among those trophies is a Japanese war rifle which leads to Jack getting grounded.   He pretends to take a shot at the outdoor movie theater screen which is quite a distance away but unbeknownst to him the gun is loaded. He ended up scaring a neighbor who loses her hearing aid in the toilet, getting a bloody nose out of fear, and receiving a warning from his mother who he begs not to tell his father.   Jack also gets caught up in a feud between his parents after his father convinces him to cut the cornfield so that they can use the space for building an airplane runway.  

Jack is boy who is plagued with nosebleeds that happen with he is scared, emotional or surprised.   The nosebleeds act like a measurement of his emotions and his character giving us an inside look at what makes young Jack tick.   Norvelt is a town created by Eleanor Roosevelt to get poor Americans a helping hand.  At some point in the town’s history, as Jack mother tells Jack, the economy was based on trading but in recent years, it seems that everyone is out to make a buck.  Additionally, most residents have either passed away or moved away, no new people are moving in, and homes are either being sold or demolished.  The town is not faring well and everyone, including Jack’s father, thinks that it makes sense to just leave Norvelt and find good fortunate elsewhere.   

Spending the summer grounded means the closest thing to fun is helping neighbor Ms. Volker write the local obituaries of the original settlers of the town of Norvelt.  Ms. Volker has severe arthritis and asks Jack be her scriber.  However, writing the obituaries isn’t as simple as it sounds because, as Jack finds out, Ms. Volker is also the local medical examiner and her duties go above and beyond the call of duty.  At one point, she has Jack dress up as the grim reaper to investigate whether one of the original settlers has actually passed away after a source tells Ms. Volker she may have.  As the grim reaper, Jack ends up making a deal with the elderly woman offering a humorous twist to the story.

When original residents of Norvelt start to die off, Jack wonders whether it is murder or old age.  With each obituary, Jack learns about the history of Norvelt while dealing with Mr. Spitz, an annoying elderly man and the town police offer who rides on an adult tricycle, and Bunny, the annoying daughter of the funeral director.  It turns out the funeral director is selling homes of the now dead founders of the town and hauling them away.  There is also the mystery of the dead Hell’s Angel biker, a possible dancing plague, and a even a murder mystery creating a scenario that will make you laugh out loud when you least expect it.

Young Jack tells the story from a first person perspective.  It is no wonder he perceives growing up as confusing, surprising and shocking.  Even his parents make life appear complicated. Jack’s mother worries about everything including the mushrooms she used to cook meals for the elderly residents of the town leaving her to wonder if she is the one killing off the elderly residents.  Jack’s father fears a surprise attack from Russian Communists because the Cold War environment they are currently in.  Jack’s parents argue all the time mostly about living in Norvelt.  Jack’s mom wants to stay in Norvelt and his dad wants to move away.  Jack has a wandering mind and this is where the author takes advantage of Jack’s funny and observant nature.  He is intrigued by history and often tells Bunny that “history is alive” and “everywhere you look.” “Don’t ever forget your history,” Ms. Volker repeats telling him, “or any wicked soul can lie to you and get away with it,” as if she is answering all of Jack’s questions.

Once all the original Norvelters are dead, Ms. Volker is reminded by Jack that this means she has to marry, Mr. Spitz.  Many years ago, she said would marry him once all the original Norvelters were dead.  She didn’t imagine that he would live that long when she made the promise.  However, as Jack finds out, all the original Norvelters are not dead, as she is one of them, and is safe from marrying Mr. Spitz.  Unfortunately, the stakes change when Ms. Volker is arrested for murder and Mr. Spitz ends up playing guard. However, things are not as they seem and you will have to read the book or listen to the audio book to find out what is really going on.

At the novel’s end and the end of Jack’s summer, Ms. Volker repeats, “Don’t forget your history,” and “life is a cycle.”  That is when you see that you have just spent the summer with Jack as he has learned all about history and his town’s history firsthand.

The Giveaway

Jack Gantos latest audio book, Dead in Norvelt, goes on sale September 13 but one lucky winner of this blog will be receiving a free copy of the audio book. The audio book includes seven CDs for a total of eight hours. 

To enter to win, leave a comment below letting me know if you have heard of the author Jack Gantos and if you have read any of his other books.  I will pick the winner next Monday, September 12 so you will have until Sunday, September 11 at 11:59 pm to respond.  I will pick the winner on Monday using a random generator from  U.S. addresses only. 

If you don’t win, don’t despair, you can purchase the audio book through Macmillan Audio or the hard copy of the book through several fine retailers starting September 13, 2011 including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other book retails, online and in store. 

I was not paid for this review. The author sent me an audio book to review. The opinions expressed belong entirely to me. Thank you Macmillan Audio for allowing me the opportunity to review Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.


  1. I have not heard of Jack Gantos but I'm so glad you introduced me to him! I'd love to enter please.

  2. I have not heard of the author Jack Gantos and have not read any of his books. It would be nice to have the opportunity to read this book.

    Thank you,

    Christine Womack

  3. no, i haven't heard of this author...thanks for the chance to listen to this fascinating story :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  4. I haven't heard of him and haven't read his books but this sounds fun. Growing up in the 60s myself and being 12 in the early 60s I can kind of relate. I also came from a small town at that time and there really was nothing to do but there was still more to do that in Norvelt.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  5. Giveaway is closed. The winner is commenter #1 - Amber. Thanks for entering everyone.


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