The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza

The final instalment in this series is a book which will stay with the reader for quite a while. Although it may be chock-a-block with slapstick and gross-out humour, at its heart, this is a very sad book. Forced to stay out of school to look after his baby brother, while his mother is treated in hospital for depression, Joey must also overcome his own struggles with ADHD as well as prevent his absentee father from kidnapping the baby.

The first-person narrative means that all of this dysfunction and neglect is seen and described from Joey’s point of view, which to some extent, shields us from the tragedy of his situation. His positive demeanour means that he neither refuses to give up on his family nor indeed hold grudges. With a plot that can be meandering at times it is only the strength of Joey as a character that ensures that the reader stays with this book to the end.

Overshadowing the narrative at all times, however, is the horrendous sadness of the setting. A passage where his mother explains to Joey how she must go to hospital because she is afraid that she will hurt his baby brother is heartbreaking. Dealing with issues such as extreme deprivation, neglect and mental illness, this book will lead to many questions from young readers. With such themes and indeed some passages which can be described as disturbing, the reviewer feels that this book would be best read in a group-setting in the presence of an adult.