Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
by Jack Gantos
Here is the first of two touching stories about a wonderful boy who is "wired wrong" inside. One of them was a Newbery Honor Book, the other a runner-up for the National Book Award, and they both deserve your attention.
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key comes first. Here's a little boy in about fifth grade, who has a problem with hyperactivity combined with a tendency to make bad decisions, though he is basically a nice boy. His grandma and his father were the same way before him, and his mean old grandma is the one who raises him until fifth grade, because his father ran out and his mother went after him, hoping to straighten him out. Turns out the mother and father did a lot of drinking, then the mother decided to clean up her act and go back to the little boy she had left behind. One day she turns up, and the kid doesn't even recognize her. She takes control of the family and the chaos of their household, finally Grandma gets ticked off and leaves, and then the story really gets started.
It's basically about the relationship that develops between this little boy who has never had the help he needs, or a positive family life, and the mother who suddenly finds herself raising him alone after having nothing to do with him for years. It's also about how Joey hits rock bottom, ADHD-wise, and begins to turn his life around with the help of the right medication.
It's too bad that things had to get so bad for him before the danger signals were noticed and he got the treatment he needed. Among the outrageous things Joey Pigza does, he swallows his house key on a dare, walks on the high beams of an Amish barn during a school field trip and then jumps onto a bale of hay, sharpens his finger in a pencil sharpener, and (last but not least) cuts off a little girl's nose while running with scissors. Ouch! This last doozie lands him a 6-week suspension in a special-ed center, a lot of medical tests, and a crisis between Joey and his mother who is still figuring out how to be a mom. For all Joey's misdeeds, you always love him and you never laugh at him. It is a very warm-hearted (though sometimes scary) story about a character with a heart of gold and a "head full of bees."
The sequel is Joey Pigza Loses Control. Look out for it.
Recommended Age: 10+
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