Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
Young Adult, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction
In Dead End in Norvelt, he aims for a slightly older audience. We're clearly in young adult fiction territory here. Gantos uses Jack and his kooky summertime misadventures to connect with an adolescent audience to explore subjects that most slightly older kids can relate to: getting busted by your parents, fighting with friends, and taking a test drive at flirting. Sure, it all seems a little quaint, since it's taking place in the 1960s. But some things never change.
Coming of Age
We don't see Jack move into adulthood (or even close to adulthood), but we do see him make some major strides in become, well, a man—like how to stand up for what's right, how to take responsibility for his actions, and how to help those who need it. (All that, and he's only twelve years old.) He may not end the book an adult, but he's definitely no longer a child.
Gantos's novel blends autobiography with fiction. So, Dead End in Norvelt is not really a true autobiography. While Gantos grew up in Norvelt, PA, he adds plenty of embellishments. A lot of the story's foundation is true: Jack's father really was a deer hunter who tried to interest Jack in hunting; his neighbor really was an obituary writer; and Jack really did get messy bloody noses as a child. The fictionalized plot with its wildly improbable events neatly ties together all of these foundational pieces. It's sort of like Gantos's life viewed through a weird funhouse mirror. Things are twisted and slightly off-kilter.
A final thought: remember how Miss Volker says that "most of what I say is true" (16.21)? Author-Gantos makes meaning out of his life. No, it's not word-for-word factual. But it's true just the same.
This one's easy. Jack's story takes place in a real-life town, with a real-life history, with real-life characters (okay, so they're not exactly accurate—that's where the "fiction" part comes in). It even won a prestigious literary prize for historical fiction set in the Depression through the 1930s. Historical fiction it is.