Books & More from the Teen Scene

Book reviews and other reflections from one of Oregon's young adult librarians

“Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos December 27, 2011

Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. Harrisonburg, Virginia.: R.R. Donnelly & Sons Company, 2011. 341 pages. ISBN: 9780374379933.

Dead End in Norvelt cover

Images courtesy of

The Basics:

Jack Gantos is a kid growing up in the fading glory days of the utopian town of Norvelt, Penn. He’s spending his summer stuck between digging a fake bomb shelter and taking dictation from the town’s aging medical examiner as the last of the original residents meet their end.


Jack is fascinated by history. He eats up books about Egyptian wonders and the lost culture of the Incas, but he’s about to spend his summer being schooled in local history. Jack lives in Norvelt, a subsistence-homestead community founded by Eleanor Roosevelt as a way to provide housing and solid living to desperately poor families in the 1930s. As the original residents – and some would say the town with them – die off, they are sent off in style by Miss Volker, the medical examiner chosen by Mrs. Roosevelt herself who write elaborate obituaries for each of her former neighbors.

Between Miss Volker’s strange home remedies for her arthritic hands and Jack’s chronic nosebleeds, the bizarre death of a visiting Hell’s Angel in their town, and the constant interference of a tricycle-riding community policeman, Jack Gantos creates a pleasantly wacky landscape that earns frequent chuckles.

Random Thought:

This fictionalized story is about a real town – where Jack Gantos really grew up. More than anything, I found myself wanting to know more about Norvelt and the principles on which it was founded. Here is one source of such informaton:

Awards and Honors (Source:

  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Fiction title for 2011
  • One of Horn Book’s Best Fiction Books of 2011.

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