Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

joey      Plot:   Joey Pigza is a boy who has ADHD.  He pulls out his hair, he spins through the hallways at school, and snatches flies out of the air.  His home life exacerbates his condition.  His father, who is an alcoholic, left when he was in kindergarten and his mother followed right after him.  Joey’s grandmother steps in to raise him but, due to her own psychological problems, ends up emotionally abusing him.

When we meet Joey, his mother has returned to raise him, but his behavior continues to deteriorate.  Events come to a head when Joey swallows his house key and also, albeit  unintentionally, hurts another student with a pair of scissors.

Joey is sent to a special education center across town with children who suffer from sever physical and cognitive disabilities.  The question for Joey now is will he be able to pull himself together with the help of medication and return to school?

Personal Reaction:   I liked this book because it is written from the point of view of the unreliable narrator Joey.   As readers, we understand that we aren’t getting the full story, and yet, through little hints and cues, we can feel the adults’ frustration waft off of the pages.  Still, Joey remains a likable character because he does struggle with himself and genuinely wants to get better.

I would recommend this book to ages 9-12.  This may be of special interest to children and parents who suffer from ADHD.  Published 1998.

Themes:  disabilities, social outcast, abandonment, alcoholism, special education

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