Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (book review)

Posted: November 6, 2012 in Book Review, LIBR 264 - Materials for Tweens, Tween Books
Tags: , , , , , ,

“They say I’m wired bad, or wired sad, but there’s no doubt about it — I’m wired.”

Gantos, J. (1998). Joey Pigza swallowed the key. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Girioux.
1999 ALA Notable Children’s Books
Interest Level: 5-8,
Reading Level: 4.9
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subjects: ADHD, Mental Health, Feeling and emotions, School life, Understanding self and others, Single-parent family
Joey Pigza books:
1 – Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
2 – Joey Pigza Loses Control
3 – What would Joey do?
4 – I am not Joey Pigza

The first in the Joey Pigza books, this book is amusing, emotional and even somewhat disturbing. But, Jack Gantos does not shy from presenting Joey Pigza and his difficulties due to ADHD as anything less than realistic. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is a story about a family’s love, a boy that no matter how good his intentions are he ends up frustrating and even physically hurting others. Many may recognize some similarities in themselves or another classmate as those that Joey Pigza has. Joey’s life is like a daily roller coaster ride, and Gantos lets his readers join the ride as they read this highly energetic first person narrative. Jack, his grandmother, and mother are all multifaceted characters in which aspects of realism such as alcoholism and abuse are introduced without overpowering the overall story.

Joey, a boy struggling due to his disorder has a hard time controlling his emotions, his dysfunctional family, developing friendships, trying to keep his body still, and keeping his mother happy and proud. Joey makes a lot of bad choices, even if he doesn’t even realizes they are bad at the time. Such as sticking his finger in the electric pencil sharpener, running with scissors, and of course swallowing his own house key. Because he can’t stay still and distracts the regular education teachers and his other classmates often a result of his “dud meds”  that wears off far too soon, he is often sent to the special needs classroom where he can wiggle, wobble, and twist and turn until he falls asleep of exhaustion. Unfortunately he’s still sent to another school with a larger special-ed program which Joey fears most of all. What if he messes up there? Where else is there left for him to go? Can he stop making bad choices and redeem himself? Joey fears that if he doesn’t improve he will fall through the cracks for good. Thankfully Joey does get to return to his old school after six weeks at the special-ed school where they helped him learn to manage his behavior and regulate his medicine.

If you’ve ever enjoyed any of Jack Gantos’ books, it is most likely this will be just as enjoyable. Gantos has an amazing ability to capture humor in the oddest of situations, and the hyperactivity part of Joey’s ADHD is so highly amusing and descriptive with a swiftly written cadence that the reader will be shocked at the incredible imagery. Still, regardless of all the humor, most readers will want to put their arms around Joey, and comfort him during his endless dealings with his ADHD. In Anything but Typical by Noral Raleigh Baskin, readers explores the world of Jason, a twelve year old boy struggling with autism for self-acceptance and his desire to be a writer in this highly informative first person narrative which will most likely appeal to anyone that enjoyed reading Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

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