Review Blog

Sep 02 2010

I am not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

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Corgi Yearling 2010.
(Ages 10+) Recommended. This is the fourth book about Joey Pigza, but it can be read independently. Joey's ADHD was the focus of previous stories, but in this episode, the ADHD takes a back seat as Joey's unreliable father turns up, apparently cured of his fecklessness following a moderate win on the lottery. He persuades Joey's mum to remarry him and the three try to make a new life as owners of The Busy Bee Diner.
However, Joey's Dad has a crazy desire to slough off his old identity and reinvent himself. He forces Joey to throw out every aspect of his life, including all his belongings and even his name.  Joey Pigza is now Freddy Heinz and naturally enough he experiences an identity crisis which Gantos deals with in heartbreakingly comic style.
I believe that the best books make you laugh while you're crying and this happens a lot when reading about Joey Pigza. Dad is a pathetic buffoon who freely admits 'I just want fun, fast food, lots of money and no hard work.' Mum lives to shop and runs up huge credit card bills that no one can afford to pay. They take Joey out of school so that he can help them run the diner. It's a miracle that Joey remains the sanest member of this dysfunctional family.
Jack Gantos writes in a similar way to Louis Sachar and Morris Gleitzman. Here is a story simply told, understated, lively, funny and tragic. Gantos hits you with the force of a sledgehammer and has a feather light sureness that demands a response. I found this book quite disturbing, particularly the complete inadequacy of the parents, but perhaps that's because I'm reading it from an adult perspective. Nevertheless I think this is one to share with children. Read it to them or read it yourself first and then give it to them, it's bound to generate a lot of discussion.
Claire Larson

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