Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key


"They say I'm wired bad, or wired sad, but there's no doubt about it—I'm wired."

Joey Pigza's got heart, he's got a mom who loves him, and he's got "dud meds," which is what he calls the Ritalin pills that are supposed to even out his wild mood swings. Sometimes Joey makes bad choices. He learns the hard way that he shouldn't stick his finger in the pencil sharpener, or swallow his house key, or run with scissors. Joey ends up bouncing around a lot - and eventually he bounces ...

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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

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"They say I'm wired bad, or wired sad, but there's no doubt about it—I'm wired."

Joey Pigza's got heart, he's got a mom who loves him, and he's got "dud meds," which is what he calls the Ritalin pills that are supposed to even out his wild mood swings. Sometimes Joey makes bad choices. He learns the hard way that he shouldn't stick his finger in the pencil sharpener, or swallow his house key, or run with scissors. Joey ends up bouncing around a lot - and eventually he bounces himself all the way downown, into the district special-ed program, which could be the end of the line. As Joey knows, if he keeps making bad choices, he could just fall between the cracks for good. But he is determined not to let that happen.

In this antic yet poignant new novel, Jack Gantos has perfect pitch in capturing the humor, the off-the-wall intensity, and the serious challenges that life presents to a kid dealing with hyper-activity and related disorders.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is a 1998 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

To the constant disappointment of his mother and his teachers, Joey has trouble paying attention or controlling his mood swings when his prescription medications wear off and he starts getting worked up and acting wired.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

* "In this rollercoaster of a ride, ingenuously and breathlessly narrated by Joey himself, readers are treated to an up-close introduction to life with attention deficit disorder—or being wired, as Joey puts it. . . . Readers of this compelling tragicomedy will know almost from the start that Joey's not just a good kid—he's a great kid." —The Horn Book, starred review

Horn Book
In this rollercoaster of a ride, ingenuously and breathlessly narrated by Joey himself, readers aretreated to an up-close and personal introduction to life with attention deficit disorder.
Christine Alfano
This novel presents a clear picture of a kid at risk, and shows us ADHD from the inside out. . . Gantos doesn't allow us to pity Joey—he lets us understand him. -- Riverbank Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a starred review, PW called this National Book Award finalist "an accurate, compassionate and humorous appraisal of a boy with attention-deficit disorder." Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Joey Pigza is wired. Not just that, but he's got a wired streak in his family. Not just that, but he's heading for deeper and deeper trouble. He can't sit still. He does bizarre things that cross the border from funny to scary in the spin of a wrist. And he can't stop himself. But most of all, he can't figure out why life with the troubled mother he loves is so filled with "everyday sadness." Gantos takes the reader into the fractured world of the child with what we today call ADHD. Whose road to what we might call normalcy is rocky beyond imagining. The reader follows that road in this story, with Joey's direct, edgy, matter-of-fact voice as guide. Gritty, often disturbing, yet ending with a glimpse of the awesome resilience of this young protagonist.
VOYA - Rayna Patton
Joey Pigza is hyperactive and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and he knows it. Being wired is something that runs in his family; Joey's father skipped out when Joey was in kindergarten. His mother left shortly afterwards, abandoning Joey to the dubious care of a batty and abusive grandmother. For years Joey lived in chaos, until his mother came home sobered up and determined to take care of him. The trouble is that the meds Joey takes to control his condition work only half a day, and when they wear off he is quite literally off the wall, impossible in a classroom and a menace to himself and others. When Joey precipitates an accident that seriously injures a classmate, he is sent to a special education school-where, as Joey observes, the kids arrive punished already with crippling handicaps. The school marks another turning point for Joey. A supportive caseworker helps Joey deal with and understand his disability, and he is put on a continuous release patch that evens out the delivery of his drugs. Joey returns to his old school feeling calmed down, hopeful, and even a little good about himself. Joey; his gutsy, struggling mother; and his long-suffering teachers come to life in this highly readable novel that is sometimes funny, sometimes heartrending, and both entertaining and engrossing. Be aware, though, that the plot and a lot of Joey's inner dialogues hang on the drugs that do or do not control his condition. Readers uncomfortable with the way that medicines are used to control children's behavior are going to have qualms about this story. There are plenty of Joeys in schools today, and it is good to have one of their stories told with such skill and sympathy. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P M (Hard to imagine it being better written, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Joey Pigza is wired. His prescription "meds" are no match for his mood swings. His mom's been warned that if he keeps acting up he could be transferred to the downtown special-ed center for problem kids. By Jack Gantos. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos' new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Ages 11-13) .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250061683
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 7/1/2014
  • Series: Joey Pigza Series , #1
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years

Meet the Author

Jack Gantos has written books for people of all ages, from picture books and middle-grade fiction to novels for young adults and adults. His works include Hole in My Life, a memoir that won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert Honors, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, a National Book Award Finalist, Joey Pigza Loses Control, a Newbery Honor book, and Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Jack was raised in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, and when he was seven, his family moved to Barbados. He attended British schools, where there was much emphasis on reading and writing, and teachers made learning a lot of fun. When the family moved to south Florida, he found his new classmates uninterested in their studies, and his teachers spent most of their time disciplining students. Jack retreated to an abandoned bookmobile (three flat tires and empty of books) parked out behind the sandy ball field, and read for most of the day. The seeds for Jack’s writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could. He begged his mother for a diary and began to collect anecdotes he overheard at school, mostly from standing outside the teachers’ lounge and listening to their lunchtime conversations. Later, he incorporated many of these anecdotes into stories.

While in college, he and an illustrator friend, Nicole Rubel, began working on picture books. After a series of well-deserved rejections, they published their first book, Rotten Ralph, in 1976. It was a success and the beginning of Jack’s career as a professional writer. Jack continued to write children’s books and began to teach courses in children’s book writing and children’s literature. He developed the master’s degree program in children’s book writing at Emerson College and the Vermont College M.F.A. program for children’s book writers. He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking. He lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Off the Wall

At school they say I'm wired bad, or wired mad, or wired sad, or wired glad, depending on my mood and what teacher has ended up with me. But there is no doubt about it, I'm wired.

This year was no different. When I started out all the days there looked about the same. In the morning I'd be okay and follow along in class. But after lunch, when my meds had worn down, it was nothing but trouble for me.

One day, we were doing math drills in class and every time Mrs. Maxy asked a question, like "What's nine times nine?" I'd raise my hand because I'm really quick at math. But each time she called on me, even though I knew the answer, I'd just blurt out, "Can I get back to you on that?" Then I'd nearly fall out of my chair from laughing. And she'd give me that white-lipped look which meant, "Settle down." But I didn't and kept raising my hand each time she asked a question until finally no other kid would raise their hand because they knew what was coming between me and Mrs. Maxy.

"Okay, Joey," she'd say, calling on me and staring hard at my face as if her eyes were long fingers that could grip me by the chin. I'd stare right back and hesitate a second as if I was planning to answer the question and then I'd holler out really loud, "Can I get back to you on that?" Finally, after a bunch of times of me doing that in a row, she jerked her thumb toward the door. "Out in the hall," she said. And the class cracked up.

So I went and stood in the hall for about a second until I remembered the mini-Superball in my pocket and started to bounce it off the lockers and ceiling and after Mrs. Deebs in the nextclass stuck her head out her door and yelled, "Hey, cut the racket," like she was yelling at a stray cat, I remembered something I wanted to try. I had seen the Tasmanian Devil on TV whirling around like a top so I unbuckled my belt and pulled on the end really hard, as if I was trying to start a lawn mower. But that didn't get me spinning very fast. So I took out my high-top shoelaces and tied them together and then to the belt and wrapped it all around my waist. Then I grabbed one end and yanked on it and sort of got myself spinning. I kept doing it until I got better and better and before long I was bouncing off the lockers because I was dizzy too. Then I gave myself one more really good pull on the belt and because I was already dizzy I got going really fast and began to snort and grunt like the Tasmanian Devil until Mrs. Maxy came out and clamped her hands down on my shoulders. She stopped me so fast I spun right out of my shoes and they went shooting up the hall.

"You glue your feet to the floor for five whole minutes or you can just spin yourself down to the principal's office," she said. "Now, what is your choice going to be?"

"Can I get back to you on that?" I asked.

Her face turned all red. "Five minutes," she said. "Settle down for five, and you can rejoin the class."

I nodded, and when she was gone I wrapped the belt and laces around my middle and gave it a good tug and began to spin and spin and slam into the lockers and I got going so good the gum I had under my tongue flew out and my Superball slipped out of my hand and went bouncing down the hall and I kept going and going like when you roll down a steep hill and before long I was bumping on the glass walls around the principal's office like a dizzy fish in a tank. Then the principal came out and pinned me against the wall and we had a little talk about my behavior goals and I spent the rest of the day on her office floor sorting out all the used crayons that the kindergartners kept in big plastic tubs until I had separate piles of blue and green and red and yellow and you know the rest.

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