Review: The Pigman by Paul Zindel

What is it?

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

First published 1968

A contemporary (for the time), young adult, coming of age novel.

Why should I read it?

If you’re a teenager, why would you want to read a book that was written over forty years ago?  Before you, and possibly even your parents, were born?

Because nothing’s changed.

It starts with an oath.  John and Lorraine swear to tell only the facts of what happened when they met Mr Pignati.  They’re typing it up in the school library while the librarian—the Cricket—hovers around.  And in alternating chapters, they reveal their story.

It started as a game, picking phone numbers at random and seeing how long they could keep someone talking.  Until Lorraine chooses Mr Angelo Pignati’s number and they develop an unusual friendship with a man they dub the Pigman, thanks to his large collection of pig ornaments.

Mr Pignati is a bit weird, but offers both John and Lorraine a refuge from their own unhappy lives: John’s clean-freak mother and domineering father, Lorraine’s man-hating mother.  Mr Pignati was always happy to see them and they had fun together.  It was “something that let me be a child in a way I never could be with my mother”.

But Mr Pignati has secrets of his own and when John and Lorraine push his hospitality too far, it puts their friendship with the old man at risk.

The characters of John and Lorraine each have their own unique voices.  Lorraine is sensitive and paranoid, and can’t seem to please her mother who is “quick with her hand”.  John has a tendency to distort the truth and doesn’t want to “wear a suit every day and carry an attaché case”, which is something his father can’t seem to accept.  “Be yourself!  Be individualistic … but for God’s sake get your hair cut.”

It’s a bitter sweet story, where John and Lorraine learn an important lesson, but lose something along the way.  “Our life would be what we made of it – nothing more, nothing less.”  Maybe life seems unfair, maybe your parents are out of touch, maybe you have no idea what you want to do with your life – but in the end you’re the only one who can do anything about it.  And when you realize this, you have met your Pigman.

The Pigman is a fantastic, heartfelt coming-of-age story suitable for anyone from 11 or 12 years up.  It’s short (my copy has only 159 pages) but uses the compact length to get straight to the heart of the story without any real subplots.

Paul Zindel wrote 39 novels, many about teenage outcasts with useless parents, and often with quirky titles to reflect the humour which balanced out the heavy subject matter.

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