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Review of "Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key"

By Jack Gantos
HarperTrophy, 1998
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Apr 26th 2002
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza is so out of control that its pretty scary.  He is constantly getting into trouble because he gets so revved up.  He puts a key on a piece of string and swallows it, and then pulls the string and retrieves the key.  Except for the time when the key is not on its string, but he forgets and swallows it anyway.  He also puts his finger in a pencil sharpener, runs with scissors and cuts the tip of a girls nose off.  He is suspended from school, and goes to a Special Education Center, where he gets better help.

            He was already on medication, and he takes it fairly regularly, but it doesnt seem to be very effective.  Some of his problems are related to his family.  His mother has had problems with alcohol in the past, and even now she is pleased when Joey makes her an Amaretto with Mountain Dew.  The previous year, Joey lived with his Grandma, because his mother wasnt in a fit state to look after her son.  But his Grandma was nasty to him, and told him his mother didnt want to visit him because he was badly behaved.  No wonder that Joey feels worried about his family and what is going to happen to him. 

            Not all parents will feel that this is appropriate reading for young children; the book jacket suggests ages 10 and up, but parents may want to take a look at the book first, before allowing their children to read it.  It is fast-paced and gives a sympathetic picture of Joeys inner life.  Hes also quite funny; when he answers back to his teachers, Can I get back to you on that? its hard not to laugh even if he is being rude. 

            The reader never learns exactly what is wrong with Joey; maybe its ADHD, or adjustment disorder, or depression, or conduct disorder.  It doesnt really make much difference for the purposes of the story; its enough to know that Joey gets so wired that he goes wild.  Reading about Joey may help children to accept kids they know who keep on getting into trouble, and maybe, if they themselves are like Joey, they might feel that theres some hope for them.

            Jack Gantos reads the unabridged audiobook himself, and he does a good job.  He brings his words alive, and makes the story even more gripping.


© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.

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