A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Jack doesn't like school but he loves history, and he spends his summer reading about bygone civilizations. He is astute enough to understand that just because a book tells him Cortés was a great man for destroying the Aztec civilization doesn't mean it's true. Jack gives much thought to the lessons of history and tries to apply them to his own life and the town of Norvelt.
The town of Norvelt was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt to give common working people a helping hand, and this theme runs throughout the book. Frequent references are made to historical efforts to achieve rights and equality for slaves, peasants, and other subjugated peoples.
Positive Role Models
Jack is an extremely responsible boy with a genuine interest in everyone around him. Though he gets into trouble, he willingly accepts his punishment and, to his friends' dismay, even begins to enjoy his job serving the elderly Mrs. Volker and learning about Norvelt's history.
Violence & Scariness
Anytime Jack feels nervous, his nose bleeds. This "nose problem," as his mother refers to it, spatters blood throughout the book, but most of the violence has an underlying comic feel. Jack accidentally shoots off his dad's war rifle in the first chapter. As the elderly women of Norvelt start dying off, one by one, the circumstances become increasingly suspicious. When a visiting Hells Angel is killed by a passing cement truck, his gang retaliates by setting fire to a house in town.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this book is filled with comic violence and unlikely scenarios, but it also includes an overriding theme of the importance of social justice. Current or former Girl Scouts may be bothered by the fact that a friend of Jack’s sells Girl Scout cookies in order to earn money for herself.
Is It Any Good?
There’s a touch of the tall tale in DEAD END IN NORVELT, reinforced by the fact that the main character shares the author's name. (Though this is by no means an autobiography -- the author lived in the real Norvelt only until age 7.) The book's Jack is charming and earnest and serves as a willing foil for Norvelt’s wacky residents. There’s the undertaker's daughter, a small, fearless girl named Bunny, who knows a million dead-person jokes; the tricycle-riding, self-righteous Mr. Spizz, who hands out citations for overgrown weeds; Jack's father, who enlists Jack’s help in building a bomb shelter; and especially Mrs. Volker, the eldest-living Norvelt resident, town coroner, passionate writer of obituaries, and crusader for human rights. Though the characters are wonderfully colorful, the episodic structure sometimes bogs the story down. Still, the humor will carry most readers toward the end when the pace picks up and moves toward an exciting conclusion.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.