cover image The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

Jack Gantos. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-30083-8

“It is so much easier to be in trouble all the time because then everyone wants to help you,” laments Joey Pigza in this fifth and final volume of his chronicles. Suffering from postpartum depression, Joey’s mother checks into the hospital, leaving Joey to care for Carter Junior. Meanwhile, Joey’s estranged father, sporting a face like Frankenstein after a botched facelift, is trying to kidnap baby Carter. Joey’s life is so sad—his mother has hidden his meds, cockroaches roam the kitchen, and there’s nothing to eat but pizza, which he pays for (illegally) with food stamps—that readers may fervently hope the police do show up, jail his parents, and put the Pigza boys in foster care. Collectively, the Pigza series is a poignant examination of modern dysfunction, a window into how kids in tough family situations come to believe they are damaged and incapable of redemption. “I guess once a nail is bent there is no way to make it perfectly straight again,” Joey concludes. Though warm-hearted Joey demonstrates tremendous growth and maturity, it’s uncertain he’ll ever be able to overcome his childhood. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)