2012: Dead End in Norvelt (Writing for the Dead)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young boy who helps his elderly neighbor write obituaries for the town newspaper.

Dead End in Norvelt will definitely appeal more to lovers of small town humor and the coming of age struggles that plague boyhood. I felt like half the book was about Jack’s battle with constant nosebleeds, obsession with Japanese sniper rifles, and love for airplanes – which is not exactly compelling stuff to read about. I found it hard to relate to Jack and the trouble he brought upon himself and only really enjoyed his visits with Miss Volker – the resident obituary writer.

The strongest scenes were when Jack was learning about the town’s history and realizing how history is often lost when people die. The main character’s obsession with world history is a fun trait for a protagonist, and it’s great to see how he continues to gain a greater appreciation for it as he learns other people’s stories.

The writing was quite humorous at times, especially when depicting his struggle to appease both his mother and father when the two disagreed on how things should proceed. Their trite family problems felt true to life and easily capture the sentiment of a boy growing up in the rural countryside.

This Newbery winner was definitely more of a miss than a hit for me. The plot is stretched a bit too thin, but its humorous, easy-going style may appeal to readers who love quirky small town stories.

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