Looks like it’s going to be a long 1962 summer after Jackie is grounded for shooting his father’s World War II rifle at the drive-in movie screen (he didn’t know it was loaded). His only reprieve is helping elderly Miss Volker write obituaries for this small Pennsylvania town newspaper, and helping his father dig a bomb shelter and a runway in the corn field behind their house. Jack Gantos mixes history with humor in his award-winning young adult book – Dead End in Norvelt.
As each elder citizen dies, Miss Volker, a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, records their unique contribution to the town as well as adding a few kernels of historic significance to the obituaries, citing significant happenings all over the world occurring on the same day. Gantos delivers the laughs along with a history lesson.
The action shifts when a group of Hells Angels burns down a house in the town and the town’s little old ladies start dying daily. The town undertaker buys the land of his dead customers, and pay Jackie’s father to tow the houses to a town in West Virginia. Suddenly, a murder plot is suspected and an autopsy confirms that mushrooms, casseroles, chocolates, or Girl Scout cookies are all the possible murder weapons.
Gantos cannot resist one last laugh with a morality lesson in the end, but leaves with a nostalgic nod to history and the ever-changing times.