Book review: Jack Gantos’ “Joey Pigza” books

Read more about What Would Joey Do? at Amazon.
Read more about Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key at Amazon.

I read two of Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza books: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key and What Would Joey Do? The books are written from the perspective of an elementary age boy, Joey Pigza, who has Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

These books are well-written, and Joey is a frightfully likeable character. Still, these books were real downers to me. In What Would Joey Do?, Joey’s grandmother tells him she won’t die until he has a real friend. Joey doesn’t seem to be terribly upset that he doesn’t have any friends, but it’s really important to his grandmother. He ends up pretending to have a friend and his grandmother dies the next day. Through all this, Joey’s parents aren’t really much help to him.

I think the book’s message about needing friends is extremely relevant to today’s kids, but oy! Did his grandmother have to die?

In Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Joey doesn’t seem to be able to manage his own behavior and the school and his mom are unable to meet his needs. The book has incredibly poignant descriptions of “special education” that takes place down in the boiler room away from the rest of the kids.

I’d recommend these books for people trying to get into the head of someone with ADHD, but I’d keep them away from kids with ADHD — especially those who are having difficulty at school or with peers. Perhaps it’s just my perspective as a parent of a daughter (who doesn’t have disabilities) who is having a difficult time with her peers. These books portray a brave boy with no real supports and none on the horizon.

We should hope for better for any child.


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  1. Marilee Says:

    I recently surveyed a group of “struggling” sixth graders who read “Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key”.(read together in class) They all liked the book. The students thought it was funny. The students identified with Joey- there are not many books out there that have an identified ADHD student as a main character. Parents and teachers often do not know how to meet the child’s needs. So all of that is real. If you think that your daughter (who doesn’t have disabilities)is having a difficult time with peers – think how hard it is for those who do have disabilities. This book tells their story. Yes- we would hope better for any child. That is why I think that they liked it. It is interesting to note that their favorite read so far this year has been “Tuck Everlasting”. The students loved the idea of living forever.