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by Jack Gantos
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 7th 2002

Joey Pigza Loses Control

It’s summer, and Joey Pigza’s mother has to work, so she has reluctantly agreed to Joey’s 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.  He’s also got a new dog, his Chihuahua Pablo, and learning to care for Pablo helps Joey learn to look after himself. 

            Spending 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 hasn’t 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 Joey’s 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?  That’s 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.

            Joey 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 the unabridged 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 he’s really struck by their effort and he only just manages to restrain his urge to accompany their singing with his trumpet.  Nevertheless, it’s a rare point of beauty in turbulent summer, and it shows that Joey has a rare sensitivity to him.

 

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© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian 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.