[Dead End in Norvelt]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I hope you’re having a great week. I’m playing catch up (again, it feels like a constant game of catch up for me) with my reviews.

Today I am sharing my review of Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. I read this as part of my Newbery Challenge. I’ve been focusing (somewhat coincidentally) on the most recent Newbery winners. This novel won the 2012 Newbery. Overall, this book surprised me. I’m not sure what I expected–something more cohesive? But it wasn’t what I read.

Initial Thoughts:

  • There were moments I couldn’t put this one down. But there were also moments when I felt it dragged on. I finished the last 120 pages or so in one day. Once I got into it, this was a quick read with fast moving plot. But I wasn’t super satisfied in the end.
  • The title of this book is actually rather profound. Between the death of original townspeople and the dying town itself, I think this title is spot on.
  • The main character is actually named Jack Gantos which is clever but also strange. I have read that this book is somewhat autobiographical and somewhat completely made up. The author did grow up in the town of Norvelt. So that’s interesting.


Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos is the story of one boy’s crazy summer in his small town. According to Goodreads: “[This] is a novel about an incredible two months for a kid named Jack Gantos, whose plans for vacation excitement are shot down when he is “grounded for life” by his feuding parents, and whose nose spews bad blood at every little shock he gets. But plenty of excitement (and shocks) are coming Jack’s way once his mom loans him out to help a feisty old neighbor with a most unusual chore—typewriting obituaries filled with stories about the people who founded his Utopian town. As one obituary leads to another, Jack is launched on a strange adventure involving molten wax, Eleanor Roosevelt, twisted promises, a homemade airplane, Girl Scout cookies, a man on a trike, a dancing plague, voices from the past, Hells Angels . . . and possibly murder.

I liked the main character, Jack, but didn’t connect with him on a deeper level. Perhaps that’s because I’m not a 10 year old boy, but I just didn’t click with his character. He isn’t a complicated character, and doesn’t change too much during the course of the novel. So he fell flat for me overall. I would say probably my favorite character is Miss Volker. She was feisty, hilarious, and loyal. I loved how intense she was about her duty to write the obituaries and how much fun she has with Jack. Otherwise, the characters were a bit underdeveloped for me. I felt like there were many details about them that lacked useful explanation.

Norvelt is such a quirky, ridiculous town and it’s hard to believe it’s a real place! I honestly can’t understand how this town continued on the way it did. How did Jack’s parents even meet? Why do they still live there? What is going to happen with all the houses being sent to a neighboring town? And what is up with all the dying widows in this town? Everything about this town is just a bit weird–even the fact that Jack’s mom seems to love it.

The widows dying quickly story line was surprising. At first, I didn’t notice how fast they were going and then suddenly it was obvious there was foul play involved. For a while, the action was really exciting. I was turning pages faster than I realized. But, the big mystery was a bit over dramatized. Or maybe the uncovering of who did it was not as clever or developed as I expected. I wanted more details and more complexities. The ending fell a bit flat for me as well. I anticipated something more clever or surprising. But Jack and his dad throwing water balloons at the drive in theater and everyone panicking was just another strange sequence in this quirky book.

Overall, I’d say this is a great book for middle grade aged boys. I can see it getting younger boys excited about reading. But it was harder for me to enjoy it as a young mom. Not my favorite, but not the worst Newbery I’ve read.

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Have you read Dead End in Norvelt? What did you think?
Any favorite Newbery winners? What should I read next?


This is the 18th Newbery Medal winner I have read as part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.

4 thoughts on “[Dead End in Norvelt]: A Review

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Backlist Newbery Winners To Read In 2018 – Death by Tsundoku

  2. Pingback: October Wrap-Up and November TBR – greenish bookshelf

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