Sunday, July 27, 2008

Genre #6: Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult - JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL

Bibliographic Data:

Gantos, Jack. 2000. Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: HarperTrophy. ISBN 0064410226

Plot Summary:

This book presents Joey Pigza and his summer adventure with his father. With his parents divorced, Joey has not seen his father in several years. However, this summer, his mother is driving him to his father’s home, where he will stay for a while. So, Joey and his dog Pablo move in with his father and his grandmother, who also lives there. As they start learning more about one another, Joey realizes that his father has a drinking problem and is quite selfish, always talking and never listening. Nonetheless, they try to bond through baseball, as Joey becomes a star pitcher for the local little league team. If that was not enough drama, Joey’s father also decides that Joey can be brave and mature and manage his ADHD without medication. While this is a ridiculous approach to parenting, Joey wants to be a good son and wants to have that closeness with his father. As a result, he faces many adventures as he tries to avoid losing control of himself while not on his medicine. In the end, Joey reconciles how his father really is and returns home with his mom, glad for the experience of seeing his father for himself.

Critical Analysis:

This book is a wonderful look at the antics and energy of a young boy with ADHD. As a character, Joey Pigza not only warms the readers’ hearts, but also touches on their soul as we see him struggle internally with his feelings about his father and himself. His dialogue and inner thoughts like “I got that spastic feeling all over my skin like when you slowly walk into an ice-cold swimming pool and your gooseflesh skin just wants to climb up your bones and hunch up on your shoulders” (p. 119) give the reader great insight into the comical perspective of a youngster trying to make sense of the world around him.

The plot in this book was quite representative of life in modern times, as Joey is involved with little league, enjoys pizza, and explores the usual doubts associated with a parent who is distanced because of divorce. With all of the normalcy associated with a book set in modern times, however, this book is not boring. Gantos brings a fresh look at the world of Joey Pigza by putting him in often humorous situations with his dog Pablo and his cigarette-addicted grandmother, thus allowing the plot to develop on multiple levels with a mix of humor and reality.

The setting of a new town is engaging for this book, as it allows Joey to be more adventuresome, especially when he is off of his medication. Moving back and forth between the house and the baseball field, the reader is able to get additional insight into the characters being developed in Joey and his father, as well as the relationship between them. The baseball field and the little league games offer a new way of looking at the characters’ relationships as this is where Joey’s father is most proud of his son.

Despite being in a new town with a father he does not know very well, Joey manages to learn several things. Primarily, this book highlights the importance of knowing and understanding yourself and not giving up on that no matter what you are told by other people. Also, this book serves as a reminder of the unconditional love of parents, as Joey is consistently able to turn to his mother in times of trouble.

This book incorporates engaging dialogue and humor as Gantos puts his unique style into the writing and the story being told. The comical situations shed light on a not-so-comical family situation in a way that only Gantos is able to do well. His balance of dialogue with Joey’s private thoughts allows us to get a glimpse of a young boy who is searching for himself in the midst of a crazy situation.

Review excerpts:

Starred review from Publishers Weekly – “…this high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease.”

Starred review from Kirkus Reviews – “Sad, scary, blackly funny.”

Booklist – “Ganto’s skillful pacing, sly humor, and in-depth characterization make it a truly memorable read.”

Personal Reaction:

This book was comical and heartwarming as Joey Pigza is an endearing character full of energy and life. I thought it was a well-constructed read as it provided me with an engaging story, as well as informative details and insight into ADHD and the behaviors that accompany it.


· From Joey’s point-of-view, write a letter to his mom telling about his summer adventures.

· Act out one of the comical scenes between Joey and his dad.

· Research your local community and compile a list of resources and organizations that are there to help people with addictions such as cigarette smoking and alcohol.

Related Readings

Other books with Joey Pigza
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

What Would Joey Do?

I Am Not Joey Pigza

Other books about Issues facing Kids (ADHD, divorce)
Zipper: The Kid with ADHD by Caroline Janover

Pay Attention, Slosh! by Mark Smith

The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger

Dear Mr. Crenshaw by Beverly Cleary

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