THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

In 1998 I came across a new book with an odd title, JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY. I read it out loud to my 9780374300838classroom of 11-13 year olds. The story of a wired boy labeled as ADHD with a tough family life grabbed the attention of a few Joey’s I had sitting in front of me that year. With head shakes and laughter, they truly connected with this character. Sixteen years later Joey is back for the fifth and final book in the series, THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA.

Joey is still the wired and funny kid I got to know, but perhaps this is the darkest of the stories. It might be a bit much for the 10 and under crowd. If you haven’t read the others and begin with this one, you’ll get snippets of what happened in the other volumes: an emotionally abusing grandmother, a mentally unstable mother, Joey’s first kiss with Olivia who is blind, a home schooling disaster, and a dad who is in and out of the home and just as wired as Joey.

Nothing lasts very long in the Pigza family, but what author Jack Gantos does to end the story made me smile: There’s hope for the Joey’s of the world. I bet there is a tinge of sadness for the author as he closes the file on a unique boy, Joey Pigza. It’s been a fun and interesting ride.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon):  The fifth and final book in the groundbreaking Joey Pigza series brings the beloved chronicle of this wired, wacky, and wonderful boy to a crescendo of chaos and craziness, as everything goes topsy-turvy for Joey just as he starts to get his feet on the ground. With his dad MIA in the wake of appearance-altering plastic surgery, Joey must give up school to look after his new baby brother and fill in for his mom, who hospitalizes herself to deal with a bad case of postpartum blues. As his challenges mount, Joey discovers a key that could unlock the secrets to his father’s whereabouts, a mystery that must be solved before Joey can even hope that his broken family might somehow come back together—if only it doesn’t pull him apart first.


  1. The voice. That’s what I remember the most. It’s a first person emotional roller coaster ride through the thoughts and feelings of this boy on and off meds.
  2. It can be hilarious and sad all on the same page. Only a gifted writer can pull this off and Jack Gantos is at the top of his form.
  3. The way Joey transforms into a boy who is more mature in his handling of life’s big bumps in the road than the adults in his life. Joey wants to be the man of the household and he is.
  4. Food is woven into the storyline and it makes for a nice sidelight to the issues facing Joey.
  5. The unique chapter headings tell much about what’s ahead and the turmoil going on in Joey’s head.


My favorite teacher, Mrs. Maxy, had quit. Everyone said I did her in. One year of having me spin around in my seat all day while yelling out “Can I get back to you on that? Can I get back to you on that?” really tried her patience.


Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

  1. Janet Smart says:

    I haven’t read this series yet, but the books sound really interesting. I love your favorite line! Thanks for the review.

  2. Jack Gantos has an amazing imagination! I remember that first book, too… I didn’t realize it had come full circle!

  3. msyingling says:

    I’m actually a little afraid of this one, since the previous book was depressing! Waiting for my library reserve to come in so I can see how this one is.

  4. Joanne Fritz says:

    I enjoyed the first two Joey Pigza books but haven’t read book 3 or 4 yet. So I may not tackle this one until I get to those. Love the way the title pays homage to the first title and reverses it.

  5. I haven’t read any of these yet, but I certainly hope to get around to them soon. They sound great. Thanks for the review.

  6. I’ve heard of the Joey PIgza books, but haven’t read them. They sound like my kind of thing, though! I too like to think there’s a place for the Joeys of the world. Your “favorite line” made me laugh out loud.

  7. warrchick says:

    I feel a bit out of the loop here, as I hadn’t come across these. They sound like an absorbing read, and I love that favorite line, so on my list they go! Thanks for the heads up!

  8. I am really looking forward to reading this one. Plus, have a few students I would like to recommend the whole series to. We don’t have it in the collection…but we will! Thanks for highlighting this one.

  9. that line is fantastic. Sounds wonderful!

  10. Pingback: CYBILS Public Nominations Announced | Always in the Middle

Place your thoughts here with a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.