Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Pigman

The Pigman
by Paul Zindel
Recommended Ages: 14+

This is the sad story of a couple of troubled New York City high school sophomores who befriend a lonely old man and end up feeling responsible for his death. To say they "befriended" him may seem a bit of a stretch, since it starts as a telephone prank and develops into a small-time scam. But as their home lives become increasingly unhealthy, they find themselves really enjoying their time with Mr. Pignati, affectionately known as the Pigman. He awakens a spark of compassion in them, and though they never quite get over trying to take advantage of him, their bad motives are soon mixed with care and concern.

John and Lorraine, the hero teens, push their fun with Mr. Pignati a little too far, and he has a heart attack. While they're waiting for him to come home, they decide to throw a party at his house that ends with predictably painful results. The tragic end of their friendship with the Pigman leaves the kids thinking dark thoughts about the meaning of life.

Told by John and Lorraine in alternating chapters, the story pulls no punches about the kids' crummy home lives, the dangerous company they keep, their character flaws, and the sudden opening of a romantic possibility between them. At times cruelly sad, often hilarious, this book's strong point is its convincing depiction of the characters' unique personalities. They come to life on the page, and live on in your heart.

This 1968 teen novel was the first of many by a prolific pioneer in fiction aimed at high-school-age readers, who also happened to be a Pulitzer-Prize-winning playright (for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds). Zinman, who lived 1936-2003, also wrote novels and plays with such titles as Attack of the Killer Fishfingers; The 100% Laugh Riot; Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball; The Undertaker's Gone Bananas; Harry and Hortense at Hormone High; The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman; A Begonia for Miss Applebaum; And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little; and Every Seventeen Minutes the Crowd Goes Crazy! There was also a sequel to this book, The Pigman's Legacy.

These are only a few of his works, many of which explore serious issues about the challenges of growing up - besides such thrill-driven creature features as Loch, Reef of Death and Raptor. Plus, close to the end of his life, Zinman also wrote the twelve-book P.C. Hawke series about a couple of teenage sleuths, including The Gourmet Zombie and The Houdini Whodunit. I think anyone wanting to make a serious study of young adult fiction will be interested in Zinman's body of work.

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