Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
Dead End in Norvelt Theme of Coming of Age
Let's throw in a driving metaphor, since Jack likes being on the road so much: during his twelfth summer, Jack hits that crucial moment when he's waving good-bye to childhood as he sees it receding through the rearview mirror, but still driving slowly enough away that he can keep it comfortingly in sight. And by the end of the book, he's test-driving the idea of being his own person. While he's certainly not anywhere near grown up by the end (he's really only started), he learns many valuable lessons that prepare him to take on increasingly difficult challenges in the future. Dead End in Norvelt suggests that growing up is a long process—and it's anything but automatic.
Questions About Coming of Age
- Trace how Jack starts to mature in the novel. What are the most significant lessons he learns?
- In what ways is Jack's dad a good role model for his son? In what ways is he not?
- Both Miss Volker and Bunny tell Jack to "be a man" at different points in the text (check out 8.30, 12.23, and 19.22). What does each mean by this? Are their definitions different? If so, in what ways? Why is it two women who tell him this?
- Jack moves from being a "spineless jellyfish" (2.63) to being brave enough to stroke the dead deer respectfully at the end of the book. What do you think Gantos is saying about the role of courage in growing up?
Chew on This
Jack's father doesn't contribute in a positive way toward Jack's development. In fact, he mostly hinders Jack's maturation.
Dead End in Norvelt suggests that growing up doesn't necessarily mean conquering your fears, just not letting them control you.