Realistic Fiction – Joey Pigza Loses Control

Joey Pigza Loses Control


Gantos, Jack. 2000. JOEY PIGZA LOSES CONTROL. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374399891.

Plot Summary

Joey Pigza travels through life a little out of control, because he’s a hyperactive kid. As long as he puts on a new patch of his medicine everyday Joey is okay. But when he spends the summer with his Dad, who he is meeting for the first time in many years, things don’t go according to plan. Joey learns a lot about his hyperactive Dad, his grandmother, and himself in this fast paced novel. Ultimately Joey must decide what’s more important, pleasing his father or getting his life back in control.

Critical Analysis

Award winning author Jack Gantos explores the themes of family and making choices in this contemporary fiction novel. Joey Pigza is a likeable kid, with a great heart, who also has ADHD. Gantos does an excellent job in this first person narrative getting inside Joey’s head and sharing just what it’s like to be hyperactive, and how is new meds help him, “But after I got my good meds, which were a patch I stuck on my body every day, I started to settle down and think. …And the best part about thinking good things was that now I could make them come true instead of having everything I wanted blow up in my face.”

One of the good things Joey wants is to get to know his Dad. On the drive to his Dad’s house for his summer stay, Joey asks his Mom a lot of What if questions about what might happen when he sees his father for the first time in many years. But mostly Joey just wants his dad’s love, “I just want him to love me as much as I already love him.” Other characters in the book are Joey’s grandmother, his dog Pablo, and his Dad’s levelheaded girlfriend, Leezy, who ultimately helps Joey make the right choice for himself.

Joey soon learns that his Dad is as hyperactive as he is, but without meds and a tendency to drink. Carter Pigza also has his own ideas about Joey and his meds, and he’s certain that Joey can be a ‘normal kid’ and win the baseball championship with his amazing pitching ability. Joey’s Dad convinces him it’s best to throw away his meds, and while Joey knows it’s a bad idea he agrees, “And yet, even though I knew he was wrong, he was my dad, and I wanted him to be right. More than anything, I wanted him to have all the answers.”

Gantos writing style is full of humor and fast paced action as Joey navigates his summer adventures, and some difficult issues, with his colorful family. Whether pushing Grandma in the shopping cart to get her cigarettes, covering himself with shaving cream, or being “the spinner on a game board of downtown Pittsburgh” Joey’s honest, thoughtful approach to life will resonate with young adult readers.

Ultimately Joey knows what’s best for him and takes control of his life again by calling his Mom for help, “I haven’t been taking my medicine and I thought I was normal but I’m not and now I’m like my old self and I’m in trouble with Dad and I’m really scared.” Readers will cheer Joey’s decision, and his heartfelt reunion with his Mom in this honest, funny, and poignant realistic fiction book.

Review Excerpts

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “This high-voltage, honest novel mixes humor, pain, fear and courage with deceptive ease. Struggling to please everyone even as he sees himself hurtling toward disaster, Joey emerges as a sympathetic hero, and his heart of gold never loses its shine.”

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: “Readers will be drawn in immediately to the boy’s gripping first-person narrative and be pulled pell-mell through episodes that are at once hilarious, harrowing, and ultimately heartening as Joey grows to understand himself and the people around him.”


ALA Notable Children’s Book

Newbery Honor Book

Booklist Editors’ Choice

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year


  • Language Arts Connection – On page 52 Joey describes his conflicting feelings: “I was thinking that being away from Mom made be feel different. Like there was one Joey for Mom and a different Joey for Dad and that I was becoming two Joeys” (Gantos 52). Ask students if they have ever felt like they were two different people and have them write about the situation from the two vantage points.
  • Joey has a great time exploring Philadelphia while his Dad is at work. Have students research a city they have always wanted to visit and write about three places they would explore if they could “spin, stop, and go” like Joey did.
  • Use the book to discuss personal narrative with students. Have them write a personal narrative about a family member or friend.
  • Book Connections include I Am Not Joey Pigza, What Would Joey Do, and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key all by Jack Gantos. Also The Rotten Ralph series by Jack Gantos.

Image from Barnes and Noble


About libraryloverleslie

I love libraries and books, most especially those for children and young adults. I’m a Children’s Librarian in the Pacific the dream!
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