By Jack Gantos Listening Library, 2007 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 13th 2007
I Am Not Joey Pigza is a more complex novel for young people than the previous three in the series. Here's the short version of Joey's life so far: he has ADHD and he was out of control until he started wearing a medication match. His parents argued and fought all the time and then split up, and then his mother had to take a restraining order out on his father, who had a drink problem. For a while Joey lived with his crazy grandmother, and he got close to her, but then she died. In this latest installment, the theme is identity and rebirth. It starts off with Joey remembering a time when his grandmother had got brought home a live chicken, takes it to the yard, puts her foot on its head, chops the head off, and then puts the body on its feet to watch it run around and fly over the fence into the neighbor's yard. This should be enough to make it clear that this isn't a story for fainthearted children.
Soon Joey's no good father comes back into his life, saying that he is a new man. To mark this, he has changed his name from Carter Pigza to Charles Heinz. Not only that, but he has won the lottery, and Joey's mother has got back together with him, and is changing her name from Fran to Maria. Worst of all, they want Joey to change his name to Freddie. Joey isn't enthusiastic about this plan, but he eventually agrees to it. Once he takes on the new name though, he gets very confused, because he doesn't know who the new Freddie is. So he gets into trouble, but not as much trouble as Charles. This new father starts out with plenty of plans to start a new business -- the Beehive Diner -- but he doesn't follow through, and turns out to be as much as a failure as he was before. The whole idea of taking on a new identity is clearly just as stupid as Joey first thought it was. However, in the process Joey did learn to forgive his father for his past behavior, and at least he has grown stronger through that.
This is the darkest of the Pigza novels so far, because the inevitable failure of Carter Pigza's plan is clear from the start, and so we are just waiting to see how long it takes to happen. Carter's problem is that he is lazy and stupid, and so he bound to waste all the money he won. This means that Joey is in the care of two people who are basically irresponsible and incompetent. However, he does have a good relationship with his mother, and they will survive together, and readers can take comfort in that.
Jack Gantos' reading of his novel is, as ever, very nicely done in the unabridged audiobook. He keeps the tone quite light even when the content is heavy, and he also gives plenty of emotional tone to the moments of pathos.