Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos
Analysis: Writing Style
Simple and Brisk
Fitting for a book about a twelve-year-old boy aimed at boys, Dead End in Norvelt is pretty breezy: the sentences aren't overly complicated, the vocabulary is pretty straightforward, and the book is not bogged down with dense paragraphs. Check out the very first sentence:
School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it. (1.1)
Brisk, chatty, and pretty straightforward—one sentence and we're right into the middle of the story. Relatively short paragraphs mean that events happen quickly, and the plot comes on at a fast pace. When events happen so speedily, we feel the same sort of dizzying confusion that Jack experiences when he has to deal with the crazy Norvelters. Most of the dialogue serves a similar purpose. The vast majority of conversations are quick exchanges not bogged down by lengthy speeches.
That's why, when we do see lengthy paragraphs, we know that we'd better be looking out for something important. Take the end of Chapter 13, for example, when Jack envisions heaven. This is one super-long whopper of a paragraph (over one full page!) (13.90). No surprise, it's a significant moment in the text: we see that Jack equates never-ending nourishment with heaven.
The novel does use quite a bit of figurative language, but it doesn't interrupt the flow of the fast-paced narrative. Gantos doesn't really get into a lot of extended metaphors or abstractions. Take the description of War Chief, for instance: because of his untrimmed hooves, he "hobble[s] painfully like a crippled ballerina" (1.16). Here, this simile gives us a simple, clear image.