It’s the summer of 1962 and Jack Gantos has been grounded by his mother. It’s not for ruining multiple shirts because of his frequent nosebleeds (Jack’s nose opens up anytime he’s feeling nervous or unsettled). Instead it’s for plowing under his mother’s corn field, even though he was just following his father’s orders. His mother planned to use the harvest corn as a barter instrument and food supply for those less fortunate in the small town of Norville. Jack’s father wants to use the field for a bomb shelter and a runway for the plane he’s fixing up.
Jack’s only respite from his room is helping his neighbor Ms. Volker. Charged by Eleanor Roosevelt to take care of the town’s founding members, Ms. Volker is a former nurse turned obituary journalist who can no longer write or type due to arthritis. Seeing each obit as a chance to give the town a history lesson, Ms. Volker transcribes the obit to Jack who then types it up and delivers to the home town paper for publication.
“Dead End in Norvelt” blends the fictional with the semi-autobiographical into a novel that is sweet, charming and, at times, laugh out loud funny. How much or how little of the story is actually true doesn’t really matter–the story Gantos tells here feels authentic and believable. Some absurd things happen in the story, but Gantos wisely keeps it all grounded, leading to some touching and funny moments. “Dead End” easily transitions from the insightful to the humorous without missing a beat.
This was my first foray into the fictional world of Jack Gantos but it certainly won’t be the last.