Review

Joey Pigza Loses Control

by Jack Gantos

This sequel to JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY continues the story of Joey, a boy with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: he's totally wired unless he takes his medicine. He wears patches that help him relax so he can make the right choices for himself and behave calmly. He also goes to a special-ed class at school.

But when school lets out for summer, Joey has the chance to do something different: meet his dad for the first time in many years. Joey's parents are divorced. and though Joey secretly wishes they might get back together, his mom tells him no way. But she does allow Joey to spend the summer with his father, even though she's not convinced it's a good idea. Joey's father has been in jail; he used to drink too much, and he's as wired as Joey --- except he doesn't take any medicine for it. Joey's dad wants to put the past behind him and this visit is a big step. He says he's stopped drinking, he's got a job, and the court has given him visitation rights. Joey's mom wants Joey to make up his own mind about what he thinks of his father.

When Joey and his little dog Pablo arrive, Joey feels uncomfortable around his dad, even though he wants to love him and be close. His dad is so wired that his body almost hums with the electricity inside him, and he can't stand still. He talks all the time. Joey can't get a word in edgewise, and his dad doesn't listen to anything Joey tries to say. Joey's grandmother lives with her son, and she's as nasty as Joey remembers she was a long time ago. She has to use an oxygen machine because she has emphysema from smoking too much, and Joey's dad is mean to her. Worst of all, though, Joey's dad starts drinking again and decides that the best thing for Joey is to stop taking his medicine. He says Joey should be a man. Men don't depend on crutches. They tough it out. Joey wants to take his medicine because he knows it helps him and he's afraid he'll lose control of himself and become the wired kid he was before. But his dad flushes all his patches down the toilet.

Joey's mom has given him emergency money so he can call her if he needs her to come get him. But his grandmother makes him use the money to buy her cigarettes. Joey's dad says not to tell his mom about the patches, and Joey wants to believe that his dad wouldn't steer him wrong. And it looks like his dad is right. Joey seems to be just fine. He even feels more alive than he did when he took his medicine. He doesn't think he's going over the edge. But he gets kind of scared of his dad because his dad seems more and more out of control. He drinks beer all the time. He gets meaner. His thinking gets screwier, even though his dad thinks he's as sharp as a tack. And then Joey thinks that maybe he's getting messed up inside, too, just like his dad, but he doesn't know what to do about it.

This is a book about addictions and other wrong beliefs. It shows what happens when people think that alcohol or cigarettes make their lives better. It shows how people believe that they're in control of their lives even while their addictions are controlling them. Joey's dad and grandmother live in almost total misery, and Joey's life turns upside down because he's with them. Will he be able to break free of it? His mom seems like his only lifeline to safety and a clean life. Can Joey find his way back to her?

Reviewed by Tamara Penny on September 22, 2000

Joey Pigza Loses Control
by Jack Gantos

  • Publication Date: September 22, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
  • ISBN-10: 0374399891
  • ISBN-13: 9780374399894