Sunday, October 3, 2010

SLIS 5420 - Module 6 - Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Module 6 - Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Gantos, Jack. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Harper Trophy, 1998. ISBN: 0-06-440833-7

Joey Pigza is a young boy with very serious Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It's so bad he can hardly sit still, think straight, make good decisions or stay on track with a task. However, he wants to do things right and wants to be normal. The story starts out with Joey still living with his grandmother who also has ADHD. In fact, Joey comes from a long line of ADHD people, and his father has left the family and his mother "chased" after him. Joey's mom comes back into the picture and is horrified by how Joey and his grandmother have been living. The grandmother moves out, mom moves in and starts helping Joey by getting him medications and rules to live by. However, it's not quite enough and a very bloody accident with scissors sends Joey to a new school where he receives the help he needs.

What I Thought
At first, I couldn't read this book. I started it and then put it back down. I was horrified by the way that Joey felt inside: like he was a rubber band that couldn't stop bouncing--the way he understood that he was hurting himself and others but just couldn't stop. The feelings Joey described were too raw and too painful. Compounding Joey's problems are the fact that his family life has been extremely dysfunctional his whole life. His mother is trying very hard to help Joey and is obviously much better and more mature than she'd been previously, but her earlier actions of leaving Joey as a child to "chase" Joey's dad were very hurtful. Joey loves his mom and she loves him, but they've been hurt and they've hurt each other. This hurt winds its way through the story and feels very real, very raw and is often heartbreaking.

Now, that said, this story is not a downer! Joey is a very like-able boy and the people in his life, including the teachers, the school nurse, his mother, other students and other student's parents want him to succeed. One parent of a "special" student tells Joey that he is an inspiration to her. Joey's journey to be well is a tough one and, as evidenced by the other books about him, not over yet!

Outside Reviews

"Besides swallowing his house key, hyper young Joey Pigza  also loses a fingernail in a daring experiment with a pencil sharpener, steals and consumes an entire shoofly pie on a field trip to Amish country (then, sugar-crazed, twists his ankle leaping from a barn loft), and — with the "secret extra-sharp teacher scissors" — accidentally slices off the tip of a classmate's nose ... The book's action, like its narrator, is nonstop, and as the novel races along, readers may worry about Joey's welfare — for years he's received inadequate medical attention. However, Joey's forthright, kidlike commentary provides frequent comic relief; also, help is on the way as both his until-recently-absent mother and his school take action .... Joey is always explaining to people that he's really a good kid; readers of this compelling tragicomedy will know almost from the start that Joey's not just a good kid — he's a great kid."

Brabander, J. (1998). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Horn Book Magazine, 74(6), 729. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

"In some ways, the experience of hearing Joey Pigza brings the  listener closer to actually knowing and understanding him than can reading printed text-neatly indented and carefully punctuated. Joey's thought processes do not take place in sentences, and his life is not organized in paragraphs. The world that he describes is a place where all the "words were crowded together in a long line of letters and sounds that just didn't make sense. It was more like listening to circus music than to talk." And this is the way the author chooses to narrate Joey's adventures: at a hectic, almost undifferentiated pace, creating the  impression of a world forever sliding out from under him, a clownish world where laughter and pain are closely layered and control is often an illusion. Gantos's voice, like Joey's, is youthful and brash; maddening, manic, edgy; yet each syllable seems yoked to a wistful, helpless self-awareness. Somehow, in the almost unceasing flow of words, he manages to reveal both the bravado and the bravery that a child in Joey's situation must muster in order to survive. Joey's story is, ultimately, hilarious and heartbreaking, without easy answers or definitive conclusions."

Beavin, K. (1999). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. Horn Book Magazine, 75(6), 763. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.

Using this book in the Library
At my library, boys ask for this book very often. In fact, our branch didn't own a copy of it until last year and we bought it because so many boys were coming in and having to request the books from other branches. The story must resonate with kids who feel different and give them a voice. I have had some people tell me they think this book is funny. I think it's a hard read, emotionally. However, I would be glad to recommend it to kids because it will help them understand others and their own feelings. Good Reader's Advisory pick for boys and other reluctant readers.

More information
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website about ADHD.

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