by Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 7th 2002
Its summer, and Joey Pigzas mother has to work, so she has
reluctantly agreed to Joeys idea that he visits his father. Joey has recently achieved something like
emotional stability through attending a special education school and getting
his medications adjusted. Now he wears
a patch rather than takes pills, and the patches really seem to help, although
they still have to be changed periodically.
Hes also got a new dog, his Chihuahua Pablo, and learning to care for
Pablo helps Joey learn to look after himself.
the summer with his father is asking for trouble. His Dad has had serious problems with alcohol in the past, and
his Grandma, who also lives there, is almost as volatile. When Joey lived with her before, he
constantly battled with her, and she was downright nasty to him. She hasnt changed, although her health is
worse. She smokes incessantly and needs
an oxygen tank to help her breathe.
When they get on a bus together, she insists on smoking as Joey runs
riot and eventually gets himself left alone on the sidewalk in a strange
neighborhood while the bus drives away with his Grandma.
But it is
his Dad who is the biggest problem, especially when he starts to drink again,
and then flushed all of Joeys medication down the toilet. He tries to be a good father, but he just
seems to be clueless. What responsible
parent would let their young child spend the day alone in a big city? Thats not to say that their relationship is
all bad; Joey discovers that he is good at pitching a baseball, and helps give
the team his father coaches a chance in the championship. Joey and his father
do bond over this activity, and Joey is able to take pride in his great
throwing arm. He also sees how similar
he is to his father, who is so wired that he talks a mile a minute and almost
never lets Joey get a word in edgewise.
Pigza Loses Control has a troubling plot, and children may find it
upsetting. But it deals straightforwardly with issues of alcoholism,
emotionally unavailable parents, and worries about losing control. Jack Gantos
is a talented storyteller, and the book is a good read. Gantos also does an excellent job in reading
audiobook. In the end, Joey is
a likeable kid who means well and tries hard to find ways to sort out his
problems. One of the most memorable
moments in the book occurs when Joey spends some time in a church listening to
a choir rehearse, and hes really struck by their effort and he only just
manages to restrain his urge to accompany their singing with his trumpet. Nevertheless, its a rare point of beauty in
turbulent summer, and it shows that Joey has a rare sensitivity to him.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
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.