Jack Gantos

"Joey Pigza Loses Control"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark OCT 1, 2000)

Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza and his dog, Pablo, are spending the summer with his father and his grandmother. His grandmother used to live with them, thus he knows about her. But his father is a new entity. His mom says that his dad is just like him, only bigger. That said, Joey still isn't prepared for an adult who is wired. His dad does not stop talking. And worse, watch out when he starts thinking! Carter is as hyperactive, or more, as Joey was before he learned how to control his own ADD using techniques learned in Special Ed and the new meds administered via a patch.

But Joey's careful control over his hyperactivity is about to come undone. Naturally, to make up for lost time, Carter wants to make the most of this visit with his son and Joey wants to please his dad. Things seem to be working out, especially when Carter discovers that Joey is a natural pitcher even though he's never played baseball before. Meaning well, Carter decides to make Joey a real winner by showing him he can be an ordinary boy without his meds. Though Joey knows better, he also wants to believe his dad. Yet, he doesn't want that "old Joey" coming back, nor does he want to keep secrets from his mother.

While Joey sorts out his dilemma, there are plenty of laughs. The book is written in first person narrative, so we get Joey's view on his summer. This kid is precocious and funny. The most wackiest events are part of Joey's ordinary day. Like when he explains what happened the day his mom finally decides that he and Pablo can't stay home alone all summer while she works. Or like when his grandmother decides a little exercise is good for this hyperactive kid and gets him to load herself and her oxygen tank into a cart to be pushed to a field where she has him catch golf balls. But then the golf club gets wrapped around her oxygen tube... Or Joey's tactics on the mound, when he discovers the only way to get his dad to shut up and listen to him is to stop the game and call for a time out. But mixed with the humor, and the more Joey unravels, is his sincere concern over losing control. Fortunately, Joey has an innate ability for self preservation.

It wasn't until I finished this book and started to research it that I discovered that it is targeted for school children in the fourth to sixth grades. This surprised me since I found the book so honest about adults that it never dawned on me that this was intended for children. But I know for a fact that kids who live with alcoholic parents know about selfish adults, thus I give Gantos credit for the allowing children this reality check. Moreover, I like his even handed way of dealing with the misguided good intentions of the father, the insightful but rough guidance of the grandmother and the dependable healthy love of Joey's mother. Joey does sort things out, proving true what his mother once told him; he shouldn't try to please others, even adults, without listening to himself first.

Of course the most valuable part of this Joey Pigza series is learning more about Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD). I didn't encounter anyone with this problem until I was working in the Florida Keys. One of our cashiers had ADD and to "help keep her concentration" she talked nonstop (and I mean nonstop) while waiting on customers. Her son also had ADD, but he was medicated and although he still had problems, was far better off. I can't imagine how meaningful it would be for people like Kevin and his mom to be able to read a book like this or to be able to recommend others to read it in order to understand their world better. Anyone with untreated ADD knows what Carter does, "Life isn't fun when all day long you can't do anything but mess up."

Skip the fact this book is targeted for kids and read it yourself. Then share it with your whole family. The content is rich enough to stimulate some healthy dinner table conversation.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 113 reviews

Read an excerpt from Joey Pigza Loses Control at MostlyFiction.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Joey Pigza books:

Jack Henry books:



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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Jack Gantos was born in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and was raised in Barbados and South Florida. While in college, Gantos begin working on picture books with an illustrator friend. They published the first Rotten Ralph book (about a very nasty cat) in 1976. He continued to write children's books and developed a master's degree program at Emerson College in Boston. Using material he has collected since grade school, he has written collection of stories for middle-graders featuring his alter ego Jack Henry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Boston, Massachusetts.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key was a National Book Award Finalist, an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

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