At the end of Joey Pigza swallowed the Key, Joey finally had it together. He was living with his working mom in a more stable home, he was on the right meds, and he had gained enough self-control to get a dog, a dachshund/Chihuahua cross he christens Pablo.
Alas, nothing good can ever last. Joey’s dad, Carter Pigza, is back in the picture, insisting Joey spend six weeks of the summer with him. Like Joey, Carter also suffers from undiagnosed ADD; unlike Joey, he is also a semi-recovering alcoholic. And Joey’s grandmother is back as well, constantly comparing Joey to his father.
The title isn’t a metaphor. Joey really does lose control because his dad throws out his meds. “You don’t need them. You’re going to be a winner without them,” he tells Joey. “Real men can tough it out. Be determined” (94). Carter proselytizes a kind of stoicism which he himself can’t live up to, insisting the beer is nothing compared to the hard liquor he used to consume
Of course, Carter isn’t really on a new course, no matter how much he would like to delude himself that he is, and he’s unable to reconcile that fact with Joey’s own progress. In many ways, Carter is a sad man, and it’s easy to feel sorry for him. However, as an adult, he has much more control over his environment than Joey has over his, being constrained by the adults around him, but it’s a control he chooses not to exert, preferring instead to both shun and blame the world around him. Although he and Joey are alike in many ways, this is where they are the most different–Joey embraces and welcomes the world, and has trouble figuring out why it doesn’t hug him back.
Needless to say, fans of Joey Pigza will be delighted by this sequel. Unlike the first book, however, whose denouement coasts down a gentle slope, this books builds tension to an almost unbearable point. I was on the edge of my seat until the very last paragraph. You will be, too.
Age: 10 and up.
Recommendation: A must-read. Go get this book and read it now!
Gantos, Jack. Joey Pigza Loses Control. New York: HarperTrophy, 2000.