Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
Dead End in Norvelt Summary
How It All Goes Down
Jack lives with his Mom and Dad in Norvelt, a small town big on quirky neighbors. It's the summer of 1962, and Jack's vacation is ruined when his Mom grounds him for the entire summer. Okay, it's not entirely out of the blue. Jack's been in trouble. First, he accidentally fires his Dad's Japanese sniper rifle at the town's drive-in movie theater screen—um, oops. Double oops, because he didn't know that it was loaded. And then, he gets caught up in the middle of a war between his parents, and mows down his Mom's cornfield. Oops again. (Triple oops?)
The only time he gets to leave the house is when Miss Volker, the town's elderly woman medical examiner, requests help. She has crippling arthritis, and needs someone to write down the obituaries she dictates. Lucky for Jack, Miss Volker is a former nurse, and does impromptu surgery on his nose to fix it. You see, Jack has a little problem: anytime he's stressed out or scared, his nose spouts blood all over the place. Gross.
Soon, Jack finds himself right in the middle of a mystery. Not only does he need to find out who loaded his Dad's rifle, but now he also needs to figure out who is killing off the town's elderly residents. Is it the Hells Angel curse? Or is it just natural causes after all?
As the body count rises, Jack has a lot on his plate. He has to (1) get to the bottom of the sinister events; (2) stay out of trouble; (3) keep his friendship going with Bunny Huffer, a spunky tomboy whose Dad is the owner of the town's funeral parlor. Jack identifies several people who could possibly be responsible for the deaths: Miss Volker, Mr. Spizz, and Mr. Huffer have all recently purchased poison, and Jack's own mom has been cooking food for all of the dead women (who, not surprisingly, each have the half-eaten casseroles in their homes when they are found).
In the end, both mysteries are finally solved, and Jack's nosebleeds go away. It turns out that his Uncle Will is a deer poacher, and it was he who loaded the gun. Also, Mr. Spizz confesses to poisoning the old ladies in an effort to fulfill a promise Miss Volker made to him in their youth: that she would marry him after all of the original Norvelters have passed on. Yikes! And Jack? Well, Jack's just a little more grown up.