Dead End in Norvelt
Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus Giroux
Newbery Medal
2011

Dead End in Norvelt is one of those Newbery winners that reminds me that a committee chooses these books: a committee of ordinary folks like us (perhaps with a bit more experience in children’s literature and library-related tasks),but folks nonetheless who have their own opinions and tastes in books. I’m glad we have committees choosing these winners because I wouldn’t want it to come down to one person.

That being said, Dead End is not really my fave. I appreciate it, but I don’t know that I would have chosen it. I completely agree with Brandy’s stylistic analysis of this book and appreciate Redeemed Reader’s insights into the socialist bent of one of the characters. I found it a touch long for the target audience (upper elementary/middle school). Gantos is nothing if not funny, and this book certainly made me smile. The ending was a little abrupt for me, but I enjoyed the ride there for the most part. If you’re a history buff, this book will be right up your alley. The short version of the plot is this: Set in the 1960s, young, fictional Jack Gantos (who has spastic nosebleeds), is grounded all summer, escaping only to write obituaries for a quirky old lady named Miss Volker (through which process he learns a lot of history and a lot about socialism and a lot about the lighter side of death).

cover image from goodreads, book checked out from library

Things to Note/Discuss:

  • what should our attitude toward death be? How should we react to news of someone’s death?
  • what are the principles of socialism that come through in this book? Do you agree with Miss Volker’s sentiments?
  • What do you know of Eleanor Roosevelt and her part in helping folks get back on their feet after the Depression?
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