JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Year-round fun.

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

DRIFTWHISTLER

A STORY OF DANIEL AU FOND

In the last of a trilogy, sea-lion Daniel au Fond achieves his heart's desires—gathering representatives of the 13 tribes of seagoing mammals, and finding Pacifica, where legend says his kind and humans once lived harmoniously together—only to discover that his quest has just begun. Constantly recalling his previous adventures (Beachmaster, 1988; Wavebender, 1990), Daniel evades oil slicks and other pollution; rescues some fellow sea mammals from captivity; and discovers, on the back of an ancient turtle, a map that leads him to a partly sunken island. In a vision, Daniel learns that his kind had once been captive even here, but freed themselves in a bloody long-ago rebellion; he then realizes that it's up to him to teach humans to respect all life. The author's indictment of our brutality to animals and of destructive environmental practices is on the mark, but the plot's a ritualistic mix of convenient turns and token conflict. The anthropomorphism of the various seals, sea otters, cetaceans, etc., further undercuts the immediacy of the message. Daniel's fans are likely to be disappointed by the vaguely articulated resolution. For a better-written, more compelling fantasy that considers the same themes, see Ruth Park's My Sister Sif (p. 675). (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-8050-1285-0

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1991

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