Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Common Sense Media says

Sympathetic, realistic portrait of boy with ADHD.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

This sympathetic but realistic portrait of a child with attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) helps children and adults
understand the syndrome better.


Positive role models

Joey misbehaves constantly, but never intentionally.


Accidental, including Joey tripping with scissors and cutting a girl's nose tip off. Joey's parents abandon him, his grandmother is mean, and he feels he's no good.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Joey's mom is an alcoholic.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is an entertaining, sympathetic, and accurate depiction of a child with ADHD.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Joey whirls through life like the Tasmanian Devil, his body's uncontrollable impulses running far ahead of his ability to control them. This sympathetic but realistic portrait of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) helps children and adults understand the syndrome better.


Is it any good?


Told in the first person, the harrowing but ultimately hopeful story in JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY doesn't pull any punches when it comes to Joey's behavior. Even for the reader who knows what's going on inside Joey, this is a hard kid to like. Nonetheless, author Jack Gantos succeeds in making him sympathetic and bringing out his inherent goodness. The teachers, the principal, and even his alcoholic mother are all portrayed as kind -- if worn out -- people who are doing the best they can.

Though much of the story is realistic, in the end the solutions come a bit too easily. And given that medicating children with this syndrome is controversial, some readers may be bothered that the solution is almost entirely a matter of giving Joey the right medication. This novel, one of the best about this increasingly common disorder, will be interesting to most children and adults.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about ADHD.

  • Do you know someone who acts like Joey?

  • Do you ever feel like he does?

  • Do you think his family could do a better job helping him?

  • Do you like

  • Joey?

Book details

Author:Jack Gantos
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:January 1, 1998
Number of pages:152
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

This review of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 11 years old Written byOxguy April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Go Joe !

This Book is so good! I love it!

Kid, 12 years old Written byMikaylaaMadisonn April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

pretty good book for anyone

Parent of a 2, 4, 8, and 10 year old Written bysinless1 July 24, 2009

Read this book WITH your kids, and discuss!

I loved this book. Great material for discussing behavior, consequences, and attitude with young people. I would not let my kids read it without discussion,

This book doesn't offer moral judgments about pharmaceuticals, ADHD, personal responsibility, chemical imbalances, etc. It just paints a powerful picture, from a kid's perspective, of what a kid feels. The cruelty from other kids, the low self worth, coping with caregivers who may have their own shortcomings, etc.

I believe pharmaceuticals (psychotropic drugs) are WAY over-prescribed, and that the whole psychiatric establishment is prone to corruption by big pharma, and values treatment over recovery. Nevertheless, this book tends to portray the industry in a positive light, and reminds me that for all its shortcomings many people are truly helped.

Great fodder for getting kids to think about consequences, other people's feelings, judging others, making a difference in the world, and coping with life's challenges. I recommend - but only if you read it, too, and discuss.


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