Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Sympathetic, realistic portrait of boy with ADHD.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 23 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

Joey misbehaves constantly but never intentionally. Joey's mother is an alcoholic, his parents abandon him, his grandmother is mean, and he feels he's no good.


A boy accidentally trips with scissors and cuts a girl's nose tip off.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Joey's mom is an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos, is an entertaining, sympathetic, and accurate depiction of a child with ADHD. HIs mother's alcoholism figures in the story. Sequels are Joey Pigza Loses Control, What Would Joey Do?, I Am Not Joey Pigza, and the series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byMrs A January 16, 2018

ADHD in the 90s

Joey Pigza’s story is funny and very believable. Some parents or teachers might object that the book, which is meant for middle-grade readers, is too real. Joey... Continue reading
Parent of a 2 and 4-year-old Written bydonallen January 1, 2016

Exceptionality: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key review

Jоеу who іѕ thе рrоtаgоnіѕt оf the ѕtоrу іѕ nоt уоur аvеrаgе сhіld. Joey is vеrу dіffеrеnt аnd bеаtѕ tо his оwn drum. My professional diagnosis is that Joey ѕuf... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byGoofy_reviews November 18, 2019


I really don't like the book.It made Joey seem dumb and violent .When he cut off the tip of maria¨s nose.everyone made him seem bad but if maria saw him w... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bywxwxwxwx July 21, 2014


I was also diagnosed with ADHD, he can't focus, sit still and pay attention. He was sent to a special education center.

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 of 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 all are 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 common disorder, will be interesting to most children and adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ADHD. What are the challenges it poses for kids in school?

  • 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? 

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