Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

BIBLIO: 1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux., ages 10 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-374-33664-6

Joey Pigza is a little boy that any kid can relate to. He is hyper and jittery and plays the class clown. But unlike most kids, he has ADHD. Joey tries really hard to act like the good kid he is but… he has to “get back to you on that”. With an illness controlled by poorly administered meds, Joey frequently gets caught up in wild antics like shouting out, sticking Band-Aids everywhere, swallowing a key, eating a whole shoofly pie, and cutting off Maria’s nose!
Unable to handle Joey’s wild behavior the school sends him to the Lancaster County Special Education Center. There he meets Special Ed (Mr. Ed Vanness) to get reevaluated for meds and change his outlook on life. After six weeks at the center he returns to school well –adjusted and with a renewed hope for his academic success, and with a new puppy, Pablo, who was an incentive to get better.
He realizes that everyone had been rooting for him all along and that he actually made a difference in people’s lives. Among them Mrs. Maxy, Mrs.Jarzab, Mrs.Howard, and Nurse Holyfield from public school who worry about his safety and only want to see him learn; not forgetting Charlie and Howard, the special needs students he befriended, showing that he, Joey Pigza, really could make a positive change in the world.
Jack Gantos uses this book as a way to describe to the reader how it feels to be hyperactive and attention deficit. Using descriptive language such as “wired” and “spring” and describing the blurring of the surrounding world bouncing everywhere except into Joey’s brain. Subtly the author also brings in themes of a troubled home-life. Starting with the abusive grandmother and nonexistent dad, and moves along to the devoted previously absentee mother who has a messy past with alcohol. This very real book brings some perspective to how a mentally challenged student might feel about themselves and how they understand what society thinks about them.

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