A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In the small-and-growing-smaller town of Norvelt, PA, in 1962, Jack is looking forward to a summer playing baseball with his friends. Instead, he ends up grounded, his only opportunities to leave the house occurring when his elderly neighbor requires his assistance writing obituaries for the newspaper. To his surprise, he begins to look forward to his sessions as her scribe, and strange and wonderful adventures ensue, including 11-year-old Jack driving an ancient car, a home operation on the kitchen table to stop his nosebleeds, frequent visits to the undertaker's, and, ultimately, a murder mystery.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Jack's mother and father give him conflicting instructions, and disobeying either will get Jack into trouble. How would you handle a situation like this?
Do you think Jack's being grounded for the entire summer was fair punishment? Do you think Jack minded his punishment?
Why do you think the author named the main character after himself? How realistic do you think this story is?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love fiction
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.