Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 29, 1999
The story of a boy's bond with Jesus
Joey: The True Story of One Boy's Relationship with God., by Joseph P. Girzone. 149 pages, Doubleday, 1997.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
Joseph Girzone, commonly known for his Joshua series, has moved from fiction to biography in his recent book Joey.
Joey Della Ratta was the godson of Father Joseph Girzone, a priest in New York state. Girzone recounts the life story of Joey as a model of the relationship possible between a child and Jesus.
Beginning at a very young age Joey felt a strong bond between himself and Jesus. This bond, nurtured in a faith-filled Catholic family and encouraged by godfather Joseph Girzone, lasted until his early death as the result of a car accident.
Despite many problems throughout his life, Joey's faith and trust in God never diminished. Suffering through health problems, drugs and many of the normal problems of youth today, Joey managed to excel in music, a gift he believes was given to him by God and thus one he had to share with others.
Girzone describes how his dependence on God increased as his struggles grew, "During these times (difficulties) his closeness to Jesus grew deeper. I would catch him by himself just talking to God and listening to God's silent voice, which guided him mysteriously and was the source of his strength."
Girzone's close relationship with Joey allows Girzone to share intimate details of the life of his godson. Girzone describes Joey's rambunctiousness as a baby, his struggles to find friends as a teenager, his periods of depression and the joy he found in playing the trumpet.
Joey was given to incredible mood swings and Girzone was aware of his sensitive nature. Once, when they were together working in Girzone's garden, he noticed Joey was deep in thought and he asked him what he was thinking about, Joey replied, "Oh, just thinking about God. God is so good, Fahd (Father). All these beautiful flowers that grow around here. They show how tender God is.
"He could have created everything in black and white. He didn't have to create all these beautiful things. And that valley spread out before us as far as you can see. It is so breathtaking.
"I can feel God all around me. I get more of a high from all these beautiful things God has given us for free than the powerful drugs."
I first discovered Joseph Girzone through his book Joshua. At our high school it is commonly assigned to Grade 12 religious studies classes. The book is useful with teenagers because of the story-like approach and simple presentation of a loving and simple relationship with God.
Girzone's books are written at low reading level making them accessible to a high school audience. The freeing faith described by Girzone relates well to teenagers and his understanding of our relationship with God is straightforward.
In the book Joey, Girzone demonstrates this faith as a living example and testament to his beliefs.
Joey is billed as a love story between a young boy and God. And that's what it is.
However, throughout the book Girzone uses this story as a vehicle to further his own agenda that has been quite popular in his Joshua books. Girzone has struggled with the institutional Church throughout his career and his experiences of parish work in the United States have not been all positive.
This is evident in both Joey and the Joshua books.
Joey is an interesting story. It is written in a simple style and is very readable. Girzone is first a priest and then a writer - this is somewhat evident throughout his writing and while this would be a good book for a young person, it could be enjoyed by all.
(Dean Sarnecki teaches religious studies at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School in Sherwood Park.)