Friday, November 23, 2007

Joey Pigza Loses Control

Gantos, Jack. 2000. Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374399891

Plot summary

Joey Pigza tries to spend six weeks visiting his estranged dad. His mother has warned Joey that his dad is "wired like you, only he's bigger" (8). Once Joey gets to dad's house, everything changes. The normalcy that Joey has felt with his medication is literally flushed down the toilet when his dad decides that he knows what is best for Joey. Their relationship is like riding a roller coaster, and finally Joey wants to get off the ride.

Critical analysis

I did not realize when I picked to read this book that I would be reading about one of my students. Joey's voice in this novel seemed accurate of the internal dialogue that a kid with ADD or ADHD has. He feels like he's melting. He feels like he's losing control. He knows rationally that things he does are not appropriate, but he cannot stop himself. As I read this book, I felt more sympathy and compassion for my student. I began to understand what he must go through on a daily basis.

When Joey first arrives at his father's house, his dad is very excited about making up for lost time. He wants Joey to play baseball on the team he coaches. When sizing his hand for a glove, they hold up their hands together. Joey feels "a jolt as if he had a joy buzzer in his" (23). Joey's dad is full of these jolts of energy.

Joey's dad Carter is quite a character. His is a selfish idiot and a hypocrite. He thinks he knows what is best for Joey. He continually says, "I've been thinking" which usually means trouble for Joey. When Dad takes Joey to Storybook Land (Dad's place of epiphany), he won't stop talking. Joey states, "I knew how Dad felt about everything. But Dad didn't know how I felt about anything" (29). I think kids feel this way about their parents, whether they are visiting or constantly in their lives. Kids want to be heard, and Joey's dad is too busy thinking of himself to listen to Joey.

Grandma is the comic relief as well as the sage. She understands her son and Joey. She can tell when their life is about to spin out of control. She's seen the patterns too many times. Yet, she endures living with her son and continuing her own self-destructive patterns. She smokes, even though she uses an oxygen tank. She "borrows" Joey's emergency phone money to buy cigarettes (or rather has Joey buy them). She has Joey push her in a grocery cart to the story or park to play golf. Grandma explains, "'I did have a little handcart for the oxygen but Carter said it cost too much to rent so now he just gets me the tank with the shoulder case and because it's so heavy I can't get very far'" (42).

Each of the 14 chapters are named. Most of the names are places in which the story will take place (The Mall, Storybook Land, Downtown). The story unfolds naturally and as the book progresses, the reader sees that this kid is wired. He spins himself around to figure out where he's going in the city. He practices throwing rocks in the house. He tries to form a relationship with his dad, but his dad is so self-absorbed that he cannot. Joey thinks about "what it is like to be normal" (115). Without his medication, he won't be "normal."

Readers feel compassion for Joey as he tries to do the right thing, but keeps making wrong choices. Joey tells himself that he's losing control and the reader sees it happening but cannot do anything to help Joey. I just wanted to scream at Carter when he flushed Joey's medicine down the toilet. "One by one he took my patches out of the box and balled them up in his fist and dropped them into the bowl" (95). Joey feels helpless as he watches his "normalcy" go down the drain. Carter tries to tell Joey he knows what is best, but his own life is spiraling.

Readers will identify with this book even if they don't need medication to be "normal." Gantos uses everyday experiences to show how coping for some can be more difficult than for others. Even though the story takes place in Pittsburgh, it could be any town.

Review excerpts

BULLETIN of the CENTER for CHILDREN'S BOOKS: "Joey's view of the world is compelling regardless of what he's dealing with, and it's realistic in both its perceptions and their limitations. Characters are sharply and truthfully drawn."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "Readers will be drawn in immediately to the boy's gripping first-person narrative and be pulled pell-mell through episodes that are at once hilarious, harrowing, and ultimately heartening as Joey grows to understand himself and the people around him.


Read other books about Joey Pigza:

Gantos, Jack. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. ISBN 0064408337

Gantos, Jack. I am Not Joey Pigza. ISBN 0374399417

*Have students rewrite the ending where Joey and his dad do win the baseball championship. What happens next in their lives? Do they grow closer? Will Joey live with his mom or dad? Will he start taking his medication again?

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