By Jack Gantos
Cover image retrieved from
Gantos, Jack. 2002. JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. HarperCollins. New York. ISBN-13: 9780064410229
Joey Pigza and his Chihuahua Pablo continue the journey through life as a youngster who finally has control of his severe case of ADHD through much needed medication. Joey reconnects with the father he so desperately wants to receive love from. His well meaning father forces him to abandon his meds, which comes to a disastrous conclusion during the championship Little League baseball game. Joey realizes how fortunate he is to have a stable mom, who comes to his rescue.
Gantos once again creates a larger than life character as he crafts the ups and downs of hapless Joey Pigza. Joey and his best friend (only friend) Chihuahua Pablo go for a summer stay with his father, who has been largely absent from his life. The reader quickly roots for Joey, hoping that his dad will finally come through for this likable preteen. Joey worries that his father is just a larger, more tightly wound version of himself. The fears and hopes of this little boy strike a nerve with the reader, drawing him in, secretly fighting the little battles alongside Joey.
Joey is left largely on his own, as his grandma is rendered almost helpless by the effects of long-time smoking. Every detail of the scruffy family’s daily life is like a page out of real life. The reader knows that many children live this life all around us. It is modern and realistic. Joey’s father’s desire to win a Little League championship through Joey’s incredible throwing arm resonates with everyone who has felt pressure to achieve for family honor or who seeks fame through other members of the family. The frank emotions Joey shares shock and unnerve in their raw characterization. Through all the ups and downs with his dad, Joey holds tightly to the love and stability of his mother, who is just a phone call away. She ultimately saves the day, retrieving Joey and Pablo just when they need her most.
This novel holds the readers attention with a quick pace and action-packed sequences. Rather than feeling sorry for Joey, he inspires the reader to cheer for his strengths and overlook his lapses. This award-winning book is a crisp look at real life, hilarious and moving at the same time.
Book Reviews and Excerpts
Like its predecessor, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, this high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease. Publishers Weekly starred review
As if Joey didn't get into enough trouble in his unforgettable debut, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (1998), Gantos has him wig out again in this sad, scary, blackly funny sequel. A tragic tale in many ways, but a triumph too. Kirkus Reviews
Joey is a young teen struggling to maintain control in an often out-of-control world, a struggle with which many teens will relate. Gantos's style of writing and the subject matter make this book a great middle school read-aloud. VOYA
Honors and Awards
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 13th Edition, 2002 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2001 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Book Review Stars, Sep. 1, 2000 ; United States
Booklist Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 2000 ; American Library Association; United States
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 2000 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books; United States
Children's Literature Choice List, 2001 ; Children's Literature; United States
Horn Book Fanfare, 2000 ; Horn Book; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, June 15, 2000 ; United States
Lasting Connections, 2000 ; American Library Association; United States
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
Notable Children's Books, 2001 ; ALSC American Library Association; United States
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education; California
School Library Journal Best Books, 2000 ; Cahners; United States
School Library Journal Book Review Stars, September 2000 ; Cahners; United States
Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, 2000 ; Voice of Youth Advocates; United States
John Newbery Medal, 2001 Honor Book United States
Maine Student Book Award, 2002 Second Place Maine
Parents' Choice Award, 2000 Gold Fiction United States
Parents' Choice Award, 2003 Gold Best 25 Books in 25 Years United States
White Ravens Award, 2001 Winner United States United States
Colorado Children's Book Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Colorado
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Vermont
Garden State Children's Book Award, 2003 ; Nominee; Children's Fiction; New Jersey
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Grades 3-5; Kentucky
Maine Student Book Award, 2001-2002 ; Nominee; Maine
Nene Award, 2002 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Nene Award, 2004 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Nene Award, 2005 ; Nominee; Hawaii
Rhode Island Children's Book Award, 2002 ; Nominee; Rhode Island
Young Hoosier Book Award, 2004 ; Nominee; Intermediate Book (Grades 4-6); Indiana
- · This hilarious novel portrays the misadventures of Joey, who is desperately struggling to maintain control with the help of his medication. Pair this book with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Compare and contrast how the characters handle setbacks. Would a person who experiences trouble every day respond differently to a bad day than someone who only has occasional bad days? Discuss with the class.
- · Take any of the adventures Joey has in this book, such as one of his Little League games, pushing grandma to the store, getting lost on the bus while going to the doctor with grandma, the bungee jump, or a trip to Storybook Land, and turn it into a graphic novel format. Use conversation bubbles and text boxes to move the action along, illustrating it as you go.
- · Have students work with a partner on letter writing. One partner should write a letter from Joey to his dad, explaining how he is feeling about their reunion. The other partner will write a letter from Carter to Joey telling his point of view. After the letters have been exchanged, each partner should write a response. These letters can be shared with the class Lincoln-Douglas debate style.
- · Write a poem about Pablo or from Pablo’s point of view. Illustrate and create a classroom display.
- · Visit http://www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-joeypigzaloses.html for a discussion guide to use with this novel.
- · Other books by Jack Gantos:
Back to School for Rotten Ralph
Best in Show for Rotten Ralph
Heads of Tails
Hole in my Life
I Am Not Joey Pigza
Jack on the Tracks
Jack’s New Power
Jack’s Black Book
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key
The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs
The Perfect Pal
Rotten Ralph Feels Rotten
Rotten Ralph Helps Out
Wedding Bells for Rotten Ralph
The Werewolf Family
What Would Joey Do?
Worse Than Rotten, Ralph