Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (2 stars)

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

  • Pub. Date: September 2011
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Format: Compact Disc
  • Age Range: 12 and up

I got this audiobook based upon the reviews that I was reading about it.  Everyone had positive things to say, so how could I go wrong.  After spending my seven hours listening to it, I’m surprised by the reviews that it received.  As an adult, I appreciate the historical aspects, but it was very slow-paced and because the character is grounded, very little actually happens.  As a teenager, I don’t believe that I would have been able to make it through the book.


Jack is playing around with his father’s war paraphernalia and shoots off an old gun from the Vietnam War.  He didn’t think it was loaded, but he was wrong.  His mother says that she won’t tell his father, but when his father comes home and tells him to mow up the corn that she was growing; everything comes out in the open.  Jack ends up grounded for the whole summer.  The only thing he can do is help Mrs. Volker write obituaries for the local paper.  Mrs. Volker’s hands are not working so well anymore, but she promised Mrs. Roosevelt that she would take care of the originals from the town of Norvelt and she is determined to do just that.  She also is the medical examiner.  Jack’s only adventures come when he spends time with Mrs. Volker.  He drives a car, pinches a woman he thinks is dead, and learns how to type.  When he is at home, he just reads (history books) and digs a bomb shelter where the corn used to be.  Norvelt is a pretty dead town until a Hell’s Angel is killed on their main road.  Then the town has to deal with some excitement in keeping the Hell’s Angels away as someone is buying up old houses and moving them to West Virginia.  Mrs. Volker is hanging on to a town that seems to be dying just like the original members.  What is happening to this sleepy little town?  This is where the mystery begins.


I appreciated the historical lessons that went through the story.  Jack is obsessed with historical figures, so everything he reads and everything that Mrs. Volker talks about is history.  It’s like reading a whole bunch of short history lessons in one book.  This was probably what kept me interested.  The mystery doesn’t really begin until the end of the 4th (out of 6) discs.  That was way more than halfway through the book.  The mystery isn’t even that difficult to figure out.  I could see a pre-teen (11-12) staying interested in the mystery aspect of the book, but not someone who is older and able to make accurate inferences.  Since Jack is grounded and not able to do much, really the only thing that kept me listening was the historical touches.  I just didn’t really like it.  2 stars

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