In 1998 I came across a new book with an odd title, JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY. I read it out loud to my classroom 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.
PUBLICATION DATE:2014 WORD COUNT: 36,453 READING LEVEL: 5.4
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.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT THE KEY THAT SWALLOWED JOEY PIGZA by Jack Gantos
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Food is woven into the storyline and it makes for a nice sidelight to the issues facing Joey.
- 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.