From Norvelt to Nowhere

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
From Norvelt to Nowhere Book Poster Image
Comical road-trip novel stretches believability.

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Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn alongside Jack as his elderly friend Miss Volker tells him stories about American history. She relates quite a bit of information about Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Bonnie and Clyde as well as some Native American history, and she includes both positive and negative aspects of each subject. In addition, Jack's readings of the Classics Illustrated versions of Moby-Dick and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde support themes that run through the novel.

Positive Messages

There's good and bad in everyone, and there are two sides to every story. Just because you want to do something bad, it doesn't mean you're a bad person. It's important to respect and help your elders.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack makes an admirable attempt to follow his mother's instructions to be respectful and do everything Miss Volker requires of him, but this often means bending rules and sometimes even breaking the law, as when Miss Volker insists that 12-year-old Jack drive a car across several states so she can reach her destination in time. Miss Volker struggles to rid herself of her urge to kill the man who loves her.


A character is murdered by poison early in the book. Miss Volker carries a handgun that on one occasional accidentally goes off, although no one's hurt. Later, she acquires a whaling harpoon and uses it to try to hurt the man she believes has committed murder. Jack has continuous nosebleeds, and his shirt is spattered with blood throughout the book.


Miss Volker tells Jack about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's infidelity to Eleanor Roosevelt, but no details are offered except that "he chose to give in to his pleasure while ignoring her pain."


A 1962 Volkswagen Beetle, Oreo cookies, Girl Scout Thin Mints cookies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Miss Volker drinks wine with her dinner, and Jack suspects her of being drunk. A man who may or may not be a private detective smokes cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that From Norvelt to Nowhere is Jack Gantos' sequel to the Newbery-winning Dead End in Norveltand, like the first book, it's set in 1962. Here, 12-year-old protagonist Jack tries to help his best friend, the elderly Miss Volker, enforce her own justice on a man she thinks is a murderer, going on a road trip with her to sort it all out. Miss Volker carries a handgun in her purse that accidentally goes off (but no one's hurt), and later she acquires a whaling harpoon that she throws at a man in a car. The violence is more cartoony than scary, and Miss Volker struggles to overcome her own harmful urges.

User Reviews

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Kid, 9 years old January 28, 2014

Better than the first book, for sure!

This book has violence, because the second main character's goal is to kill someone for a reward of money. There is some mild language (one damn, couple u... Continue reading

What's the story?

FROM NORVELT TO NOWHERE begins with a Halloween murder that occurs shortly after the events of Dead End in Norvelt. The mystery of the murdered elderly ladies that seemed to have been solved in the first book turns out to have new twists, and Jack Gantos (a nonautobiographical character who happens to share the author's name) and Miss Volker are off on a road trip to solve it once and for all. Where Miss Volker sees herself as Ahab (from Moby-Dick) chasing the elusive white whale (the man she claims is the murderer), Jack sees her more as a Jekyll/Hyde: good person who sometimes gives in to evil cravings. The mystery adventure includes shady characters who may be what they seem, a nighttime graveyard showdown, and several incidents involving a whaling harpoon.

Is it any good?

Though From Norvelt to Nowhere shares the same exaggerated tall-tale tone of Newbery-winner Dead End in Norvelt, the story itself is more convoluted and doesn't quite offer the same satisfaction. Twelve-year-old Jack is still as likable as ever, and readers will relate to the joy and freedom he feels as he embarks on a road-trip adventure with only eccentric Miss Volker to guide him, but the story centers mostly on Miss Volker's quest to once and for all resolve the mystery of the murdered old ladies back in Norvelt. Unmoored from the kooky small-town setting, Miss Volker's vacillations over whether she loves or hates "Spizz," the accused murderer, seem too strange to relate to -- she literally tries to kill him for most of the novel, while at the same time wondering if she wants to marry him. Her historical lectures to Jack seem a bit more forced this time around, as do Jack's near-constant attempts to draw real-life parallels to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Moby-Dick. Still, kids who enjoyed the first book or who like silly road-trip antics will enjoy this farcical adventure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Jack's mother doesn't let him read Classics Illustrated because they're comic books. Do you think comic books can be considered "real" literature?

  • How does From Norvelt to Nowhere compare with Newbery Award-winner Dead End in Norvelt? Do you think there's room for another book about Jack and Miss Volker?

  • What parts of this historical novel could only happen in 1962? Could any of it happen today?

Book details

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For kids who love humor and coming-of-age stories

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