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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza, written by Jack Gantos. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast Books, 2014. $19.50 ages 10 and up

"Still, any way you look at it our family has always been trip-wired for things to go wrong. One step out of line and who knows what fuse will blow around here, so I try to keep the peace as I eat my family of pizza-people and then let the dogs lick the plate so I don't have to worry about washing the dishes before putting them back."

This is the fifth book that Jack Gantos has written about Joey Pigza. I have not read all five, but each one read has been a revelation and a burst of enjoyable reading time. Now, that is not to say that they have all been easy to read. It's hard to think about the many challenges that Joey faces in the wake of his family's dysfunction. He is such a bright light!

With his father out of the picture, and his mother unable to cope with her blues following the birth of Joey's brother, Joey is left to deal with taking care of the baby, running the household, and giving up his schooling in order to do so. It seems incomprehensible that he has to shoulder all of the problems of his broken family. As if those difficulties are not enough, Joey's mother has hidden the drugs he takes to control his attention deficit disorder.

Then, he discovers a key ... what does it mean? How will it help him solve the mystery of his father?
If you read the previous novel, you will know that his father is dealing with a badly bungled facelift. Now, he is in the neighborhood trying to get his younger son back. Joey is trying to stay positive as he also tries to be:

“the mature Joey, the think-before-you-speak Joey, the better-than-Dad Joey, the hold-the-fort-for-Mom Joey, the keep-the-baby-safe Joey.”

What's a guy to do? And how is a young man with so many obstacles in his path meant to come out of his adolescence with an ability to cope with life in any form? Jack Gantos has created a winning protagonist in Joey, and a young man who will remain long in your consciousness concerning kids and the many difficulties that are some are facing in families that do not function with any success.

This fifth book is an invitation to readers to go back and check out the first four, and for fans to bid a final, sad goodbye to Joey.

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