Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza can't sit still.

Joey's had problems ever since he was born, problems just like his dad and grandma have.

In fact, his behavior is so off the wall that his teachers are threatening to send him to the special-ed center downtown.Joey knows he's really a good kid, but no matter how hard he tries to do the right thing, something always seems to go wrong.

  • Series: Joey Pigza
  • Language: English
  • Category: Realistic Fiction
  • Rating: 3.75
  • Pages: 160
  • Publish Date: September 1st 2001 by HarperTrophy
  • Isbn10: 0064408337
  • Isbn13: 9780064408332

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The main character is a little boy with ADHD and possible fetal alcohol syndrome who is misbehaving at school. The special education students are all segregated in the basement and the severely affected children are sent to a downtown facility. The main character is routinely threatened with being sent to the basement or downtown.

I felt as exhausted and wired reading each sentence as Joey seemed to feel by telling it. Jack Gantos not only gives insight into how Joey feels inside, but how he regards other kids from the outside.

Likes: I really like how this book is written from Joey's perspective. Joey is told to "be good." Although I am sure that ADHD kids had these school experiences in the past, this book is not written as an historical fiction novel.

I don't think this book has fairly depicted the trials and tribulations of a student like Joey. I don't think that is fair to students who are in these classes. This may be threading in some deeper water, but I just don't want students like Joey to think that ADHD is equal to medication.

There are so few books that feature kids with ADHD that it is hard to find a kindred spirit. He felt Joey would become the "poster child" for kids with ADHD and everyone would assume his actions are the standard. He said it's hard enough having ADHD, having people assume you are stupid or slow because they see impulsivity or disorganization, without Joey proving the point.

Left to be raised by a well-intentioned but emotionally abusive grandmother, who shares symptoms of ADHD, Joey is made to feel responsible for his mom's abandonment and his bad behavior. I have worked with students with this disability who shared many similar problems with their medication, family life, and teachers who were unable to handle their behavior issues. Joey Pigza offers a glimpse into what life is like from a child's perspective.

Probably my favourite thing about the book was the way the sentence structure reflected the hyperactivity with long run-on sentences being used. As an adult it brings up all sorts of questions about how children with ADHD and other special needs should be treated, brought up and educated.

Sure, there was some redemption in the book (she comes back to him, she loved him enough to kick the bottle, sorta, she goes to work every day to provide for him, she makes some good decisions and has some remorse for the entirety of her parental role) but I was deeply disappointed that the author subtly suggested Joey's ADHD was the result of her drinking during pregnancy. I'm the parent of a behaviorally-challenged kid who *didn't* drink, didn't work near chemicals in a hair salon, barely even painted my toenails while I was pregnant, drank a doctor-approved amount of caffeine, for goodness' sake. I can't say I'm pleased, though, with the way parents of emotionally-challenged kids come off.

(There are also a couple of sentences devoted to his mother drinking too much, including when she was pregnant, but none of that is gone into in any depth.) The child does NOT have ADHD, the child has a serious mental disorder, and that distinction is never made.

Born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, and raised in Barbados and South Florida, Mr. Gantos began collecting anecdotes in grade school and later gathered them into stories. After his senior year in high school (where he lived in a welfare motel) he moved to a Caribbean island (St Croix) and began to train as a builder. He was released from prison, entered college, and soon began his writing career. While in college, Jack began working on picture books with an illustrator friend. He developed the master's degree program in children's book writing at Emerson College in Boston.