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Review of "What Would Joey Do?"

By Jack Gantos
HarperTrophy, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 8th 2002
What Would Joey Do?

Its hard to imagine that any children really have families as dysfunctional as Joey Pigzas, except when one thinks about people one knows, and then one realizes that truth can be just as strange as this piece of fiction.  Nevertheless, Joey Pigza does have a pretty crazy life.  His father is back in town, trying to get his mothers attention, but they just end up having screaming matches and she takes out a restraining order on him.  His father kidnaps Joeys dog Pablo, along with lots of other Chihuahuas from the neighborhood, to get Joeys attention.  Joeys grandmother keeps on talking about her death, telling Joey she is just waiting until she has finished her store of cigarettes until she decides to die.  When she becomes too upset by all the goings-on at the house, she borrows Joeys medication patch which he wears to avoid being too hyper and wired, pulling it off him and putting it on her own neck.  Joey is now being home-schooled by Mrs. Lapp with her obnoxious blind daughter Olivia.  When Joey and Olivia go to the supermarket together, she does all she can to get him into trouble.  Every time Joey goes to the Lapps home, Mrs. Lapp asks him What Would Jesus Do?, but Joey is happy to play this game with her, but of course, he is mostly concerned with what Joey should do.

In What Would Joey Do? Joey Pigza is just about the sanest person around.  He is no longer shouting, Can I get back to you on that? to everyone, and he never swallows any keys.  His relationship with his Grandma is much better than it was before, and he even shows some readiness to make friends with Olivia, despite her nasty attitude towards him.  He takes on responsibility and offers good advice to both his parents.  But they dont seem to know how to listen to good sense, because they keep letting their emotions get the better of them.  The family becomes most crazy at Thanksgiving, which starts well but ends in disaster, and it is at this point that Joey shows amazing maturity.

As with the other Joey Pigza books, the suggested reading age is 9-12, but the large doses of emotional turmoil and even death in this story may be somewhat alarming for some children.  Gantos does tell a good story, and for children who are mature enough, What Would Joey Do? should be both entertaining and emotionally challenging.  In the end, Joey is a survivor, and although its unlikely that his family is going to get any calmer, he has learned how to cope with their problems, and the book has a positive message.  Jack Gantos writes powerfully about Joeys family and his struggles with his own emotions.  Gantos reading of the unabridged audiobook is excellent.  Recommended.



·          Audiobook publishers webpage for What Would Joey Do?

·          Review of Joey Pigza Loses Control

·          Review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key


© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

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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