Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

I recommend this book for: grade 4-7

Joey is wired - he bounces off walls, mouths off to the teacher, steals pies, and rips his fingernail off in a pencil sharpener entirely by accident. Everything wrong he does is an accident - Joey has inherited behavior problems from his (abusive) grandmother and (absent) father, and his ADD and other problems are getting out of control. When he injures a classmate - by accident - and gets suspended from his school, Joey has to go to a special ed school where understanding teachers and doctors help equip him with what he needs to get better.

This novel attacks a lot of difficult issues - emotional abuse, ADD, estranged parents, special ed, and the complex relationship Joey has with his mother, who disappeared for many years and struggles with drinking and her son's behavior. Joey's observations on the way he loves his mother and grandmother, even when they've been mean to him, are astute and rather mature, but nice to hear articulated. Kids will find Joey's antics funny, and those who have some of the same problems might gain reassurance both from reading about someone they can relate to and the hopeful outlook for his "getting fixed." Another positive aspect is how Joey, one of the "normal-looking" kids adapts and makes friends with the other special ed students, even though he fears them at the outset. This is not a book for every reader - Joey's narration, as energetic as he is, can get a bit confusing at times - but those who can appreciate it will do so thoroughly.

Ask the pros.

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