Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review 1 - Genre 6 - Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos

Bibliography -

Gantos, Jack. 2002. Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374399894 .

Plot Summary –

Joey Pigza, a boy who has severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), goes to visit his dad one summer and discovers that he and his dad are not as alike as his mother thinks. Joey is anxious to get to know his father and to please him. Unfortunately, Carter Pigza, his alcoholic father, is more concerned about being a winner through his son than with his son. Joey is torn between what he knows is right and an overwhelming desire to win his father’s love. In order to win his father’s love, he must win the baseball championship on his dad’s terms even if those terms are destructive. In the end, Joey realizes that it is in his mother’s arms he prefers to be because to her Joey is “the right kid.”

Critical Analysis –

Gantos explores the sensitive issues of ADHD and other dysfunctional issues facing today’s families in this contemporary realistic fiction novel. The plausible plot and credible characters crafted through non-stereotyping the stereotypical traits combine to create an enjoyable story for young readers; however, the overuse of figurative language particularly simile and hyperbole may be tedious to older readers.

The plot is extremely plausible to anyone who knows a child of divorced parents. The children go visit their fathers and the struggle begins. The children try to win their father’s affections, and the father tries to make up for lost time with the children. From this general plot line, Gantos adds the complications that Joey is severely ADHD requiring medication, and Joey’s father is also ADHD, among other things, but self medicates with alcohol. Most satisfy and real-life is the fact that despite all the storybook references, this tale does not have a happy ending yet it is hopeful. Joey returns to the security of his mother’s arms with a new realization of what “being normal” means for him.

Gantos creates credible characters through an interesting use of non-stereotyping the stereotypical. At first, the fact that Joey is a boy with ADHD might sound stereotypical until the reader realizes that Grandma and Joey’s mother also display symptoms of ADHD, which may account for Joey’s severity with the disorder. Grandma shows symptoms in her obsessive smoking behavior and the hilarious golfing incident. She is hitting one ball after another when the oxygen tube on her tank caught on her golf club. She does not realize it and swings through causing herself to fall. She quickly hops up even though she is physically weak. In addition, she talks continually jumping from subject to subject just like Joey.

Although a little more subtle, Joey’s mother also has symptoms of ADHD. Joey comments in the second paragraph that although he had asked a “hundred” questions, she is “not really listening.” Additionally, facts that point to her having attention deficit problems are that her driver’s license is “slightly expired,” “driving too fast,” “don’t have insurance,” and “she could never do two things at once.” In isolation these may not add up to attention deficit, but adding Joey into the equation can get the reader to this conclusion. Also, apparently ADHD, is the Chihuahua named Pablo. Stereotypically small dogs are considered hyper, but Pablo has a fewer added traits in case there is any doubt. He gets carsick, yaps nonstop, chews stuff up when he gets nervous, and “gets hysterical at the sight of blood.” The non-stereotypical use of the stereotypical adds humor to this otherwise serious story.

While younger reader may not notice, older readers may find the overuse of figurative language as the only drawback to this otherwise delightful story. Since everything about Joey is extremely “hyper,” it makes sense that it also manifests itself in his speech as hyperbole. It is difficult to find an example of Joey speaking without hyperbole, yet that is not bothersome. The problem comes in when all of the other characters are using many similes most of which are hyperbole. After a while, the reader gets weary when the word “like” appears yet again. Some are carefully placed and add humor, gravity, or deep insight to the text, but most seem to be there just to be there with no added meaning. Besides this one shortcoming for older readers, Gantos has crafted an excellent work that gives the seriousness of ADHD and its effects on the family without leaving the reader depressed.

Review Excerpts –

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.”

Children’s Literature – “Gantos still gives us what we love best about Joey—neither medicine nor a bad situation can take away his comic responses..”

VOYA – “Gantos's style of writing and the subject matter make this book a great middle school read-aloud.”

Kirkus Review – “A tragic tale in many ways, but a triumph too.”

Publishers Weekly(starred) – “Like its predecessor, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, this high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease.”


· A Newbery Honor Book

Connections –

* Share the poem “Whatif” by Shel Silverstein and then read the first paragraph of Joey Pigza Loses Control. Have students make of a two-column chart listing the “Whatif” questions from both selections under “Serious” and “Not so serious.” Discuss why they made those choices.

*Use to explore figurative language particularly simile, metaphor, and hyperbole.

*Encourage the reading of other Joey Pigza books by Gantos such as:

  • Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key – ISBN 9780064408332
  • What Would Joey Do? – ISBN 9780060544034
  • I Am Not Joey Pigza – ISBN 9780374399412

*Demonstrate reader’s theater with an excerpt, then group the students and have them write their own scripts of their favorite part and share them with other class members.

*Group students and have them research and share the effects on families of the following:
  • ADHD
  • Alcoholism
  • Lack of Anger Management
  • Illnesses of elderly family members
  • Divorce

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