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by Jack Gantos
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 8th 2002
Its hard to imagine that any children really have
families as dysfunctional as Joey Pigzas, except when one thinks about people
one knows, and then one realizes that truth can be just as strange as this
piece of fiction. Nevertheless, Joey
Pigza does have a pretty crazy life. His
father is back in town, trying to get his mothers attention, but they just end
up having screaming matches and she takes out a restraining order on him. His father kidnaps Joeys dog Pablo, along
with lots of other Chihuahuas from the neighborhood, to get Joeys
attention. Joeys grandmother keeps on
talking about her death, telling Joey she is just waiting until she has
finished her store of cigarettes until she decides to die. When she becomes too upset by all the
goings-on at the house, she borrows Joeys medication patch which he wears to
avoid being too hyper and wired, pulling it off him and putting it on her own
neck. Joey is now being home-schooled
by Mrs. Lapp with her obnoxious blind daughter Olivia. When Joey and Olivia go to the supermarket
together, she does all she can to get him into trouble. Every time Joey goes to the Lapps home,
Mrs. Lapp asks him What Would Jesus Do?, but Joey is happy to play this game
with her, but of course, he is mostly concerned with what Joey should do.
In What Would Joey Do? Joey Pigza is just
about the sanest person around. He is
no longer shouting, Can I get back to you on that? to everyone, and he never
swallows any keys. His relationship
with his Grandma is much better than it was before, and he even shows some
readiness to make friends with Olivia, despite her nasty attitude towards
him. He takes on responsibility and offers
good advice to both his parents. But
they dont seem to know how to listen to good sense, because they keep letting
their emotions get the better of them.
The family becomes most crazy at Thanksgiving, which starts well but
ends in disaster, and it is at this point that Joey shows amazing maturity.
As with the other Joey Pigza books, the suggested
reading age is 9-12, but the large doses of emotional turmoil and even death in
this story may be somewhat alarming for some children. Gantos does tell a good story, and for
children who are mature enough, What Would Joey Do? should be both
entertaining and emotionally challenging.
In the end, Joey is a survivor, and although its unlikely that his
family is going to get any calmer, he has learned how to cope with their
problems, and the book has a positive message.
Jack Gantos writes powerfully about Joeys family and his struggles with
his own emotions. Gantos reading of
audiobook is excellent.
publishers webpage for What Would Joey Do?
Pigza Loses Control
Pigza Swallowed the Key
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested
in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is
keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health
professionals, and the general public.