Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581
My Darling, My Hamburger, Zindel’s second young adult novel, was the first to use the type of offbeat title which would become a kind of Zindel trademark. Eventually, the Zindel bibliography would grow to include titles such as Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball!, Harry and Hortense at Hormone High, and The Amazing and Death-Defying Diary of Eugene Dingman (1987). Zindel was again concerned with four basic themes—identity and meaning, the questioning of traditional values, the loneliness of the individual, and the difficulty of communication. My Darling, My Hamburger goes beyond these concerns to deal with subjects such as casual sex, the use of contraceptives, and abortion as an alternative to unwanted pregnancies. These subjects are dealt with realistically and with candor.
Zindel departs from the format used in The Pigman and other novels by focusing on four teenagers rather then his usual two. These four, like the young people in the other novels, learn through their own experiences, without much help from adults. In My Darling, My Hamburger, the lesson appears to be that carefree living has risks and that people must account for their actions. Zindel also departed from The Pigman formula by using a third-person omniscient narrator to tell the story; the language used in the dialogue is similar to that used in his other novels. As in The Pigman, Zindel accompanies the text with facsimiles of letters and announcements, reproductions of lesson assignments, and copies of surreptitious notes, allowing for a more personal treatment of the characters.
As My Darling, My Hamburger develops it becomes apparent that Zindel believed that at least a part of the cynicism expressed by his teenage characters must be attributed to their sense of having been betrayed by adults. These adults might have provided something for young people to fall back on at critical times in their lives. Instead, as Miss Fanuzzi does, they give “dumb” and impotent advice. Miss Fanuzzi, for example, recommends suggesting going for a hamburger when a boy is pressuring a girl to “go all the way.” Her students realize that this advice is useless, and there is a sense of frustration, as well as betrayal, in the observation that “she needs a little more experience with men.”
One of the strengths of My Darling, My Hamburger is Zindel’s realistic portrayal of the pressures faced by adolescents. The impotence of adult advice in the face of this pressure is dramatized by his division of the book into two parts. Each of the divisions is given half the book’s title, which is based on Miss Fanuzzi’s advice for handling sexual stimulation. The first part, “The Darling,” deals primarily with the pressures to yield to the male’s sexual advances, and it ends with one of the main characters, Liz, yielding. The second part, “The Hamburger,” is primarily concerned with the consequences; the title is ironic, because Miss Fanuzzi’s advice has failed.
In most of his novels, Zindel’s characters gain new insights and learn lessons as a result of their experiences. In My Darling, My Hamburger, the lessons are obvious to the reader, but many readers believe that Zindel diluted the impact of the novel by concluding with a weak ending. After all has been said and done, the novel ends in some commencement address platitudes. There is a hint that, when it comes to problems related to casual sex, contraceptives, and abortion, Zindel has little more to offer than Miss Fanuzzi.