I am Not Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos, 2007
I listened to the audio version of this new Joey book because there is just NOTHING BETTER than hearing these stories in Gantos's own voice. When I listened to What Would Joey Do?, tears poured down my face as I watched Joey care for his grandmother after she died. Gantos's tender and heartfelt reading of that scene still echoes in my heart.
I think the absence of his voice that is the reason I have not been able to get through my audio book of The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs--as anxious as I was to experience this macabre tale of taxidermy. Lisa Datz ably reads the story but I have found myself unable to get very far in it because I just can't take those "Gantos" moments without him. I will probably end up reading it because then I can supply his intonation in my imagination.
To have a new book appear in a series that we thought was at an end, is a treat. In this book Joey's "thought he was gone for good" father, Carter Pigza, has returned to pick up the reins of family-hood again. He has money because he won the lottery so the family is well off for the first time in their lives. Alas, we know these characters and we know they will not be able to handle it. In one of the most howling-ly funny wedding ceremonies ever, his parents remarry and in honor of their renewal as a family, they change their names to become new people. Carter has adopted Heinz ("You know, Heinz, like the catsup.") as a new surname and he wants Joey to change his identity to become Freddy Heinz. Of course being the Pigzas, they are not actually going through the legal system to do this which sets up a whole new set of problems.
Joey's sense of self will not disappear without a fight though and he is buffeted between wanting to please his parents and his desire and need to hold on to his real identity. And Joey needs to hold on to something as his parents become obsessed with their own lives. His mother's new hobby is spending money and his dad spends his days looking for portents and signs to guide him in picking new lottery numbers.
The writing pulls you into side-splitting laughter and then deep emotional empathy for Joey. There are also more of those signature moments that leave the reader shrieking. Joey's idea of recreating a ride over Niagara Falls using a refrigerator box and the porch roof is a scene that will have readers and listeners covering their eyes. His visit to his grandmother's resting place in St. Mary's Cemetery is at once dear and strange. He has collected cigarette butts to sprinkle over her grave because she loved smoking so much and brought along a can of silver spray paint. After his beautification efforts, his moving talk with her sent me in search of tissues.
I have always loved Joey as a character. Despite his ricocheting attention span and crazy impulses, he is always trying. He understands better than his parents that you have to know and like yourself before you can change for the better and you cannot do it for someone else. He is full of love for his mother, his granny and his dogs and he wants to forgive and love his dad.
The Joey Pigza books are classics. Joey is a character for the ages. We cheer for him because he is just a wonderful kid.
Jules at 7 Imp has written a most-excellent review of this book.