Paul Zindel Zindel, Paul (Vol. 26) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul Zindel 1936–

American novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter.

Zindel's informal narrative style and his candid approach to subjects of interest to young people have made him one of the most popular writers of contemporary young adult literature. His teenage characters often feel betrayed by the adult world and cynical towards life in general; but, though they lose their innocence, these protagonists learn to be more self-reliant while maintaining hope for a better future.

Zindel is especially adept at depicting amoral, free-spirited teenagers who learn that carefree living has risks and that people must account for their actions. According to critics, this message comes through most effectively in The Pigman, Zindel's first young adult novel. In this story the young protagonists, John and Lorraine, take advantage of the one sympathetic adult in their lives; only upon his death (which they have caused inadvertently) do they realize the responsibilities they owe to themselves and others. Zindel's subsequent novels, including My Darling, My Hamburger and Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball!, offer various perspectives on male-female relationships among adolescents.

Zindel's play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, which centers on a domineering mother and her two daughters, appeals to both teenagers and adults. The play earned for Zindel the 1971 Pulitzer Prize in drama.

(See also CLC, Vol. 6; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76; Something about the Author, Vol. 16; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 7.)

Diane Farrell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Pigman is] a "now" book, a thoroughly contemporary, sensitive—and shocking—first novel. Lorraine and John are high-school sophomores: Are they villains or victims? Wild, wise kids whose selfish, irresponsible actions cause an old man's death? Or frightened children, clinging to the never-never land of their Staten Island childhood, prolonging innocence with foolish clowning and silly games? At the edge of adulthood, escaping from the example set by neurosis-ridden, anxiety-laden parents, they stumble into a relationship, tender and complex, humorous and heartbreaking, with an ugly, lonely old man. Few books that have been written for young people are as cruelly truthful about the human condition. Fewer still accord the elderly such serious consideration or perceive that what we term senility may be a symbolic return to youthful honesty and idealism.

Diane Farrell, in her review of "The Pigman," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1969 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLV, No. 1, February, 1969, p. 61.

Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The protagonists of The Pigman, John and Lorraine,] have two great bonds: they are both in conflict with their parents and they both have capricious and inventive minds. Out of this comes their friendship with an elderly man they call the Pigman (his name is Pignati and he collects china pigs) whom they met when pretending to be collecting for a charity. They are not criminal, but John and Lorraine have the pliant amorality of the young. Mr. Pignati comes home from the hospital to find a wild party going on; shocked by his young friends' behavior, the trusting and loving Pigman succumbs to a stroke. For John and Lorraine, "there was no one to blame anymore … And there was no place to hide … Our life would be what we made of it—nothing more, nothing less." Although the writing (by John and Lorraine, alternately) has the casual flavor of adolescence, the plot has an elemental quality. Sophisticated in treatment, the story is effective because of its candor, its humor, and its skilful construction.

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "The Pigman," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1969 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 22, No. 8, April, 1969, p. 136.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John and Lorraine in The Pigman are not immediately attractive figures with whom to identify. They are out of sympathy with home and school, disturbed even, so that when they encounter old Mr. Pignati, who is senile, they are delighted to have him for a fairy godfather but unwilling to be responsible in their attitude to him. In their total absorption in their own needs they neglect his. This is an abrasive, tragic encounter: an unpleasant book in some ways, but the issues are starkly real.

"Themes for the Salad Days," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1969; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3501, April 3, 1969, p. 355.∗

Marilyn R. Singer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[My Darling, My Hamburger is a] skillfully written story of four high school seniors … that has tremendous appeal on the entertainment level, but that totally cops out on the issues raised: sex, contraception, abortion. The action in the story happens to Liz and Sean; Maggie and Dennis, there to register and transmit what's happening emotionally, are sensitive, insecure alter egos for those glamorous, hip loners. The teenagers here are the most realistic of any in high-school novels to date: they have appropriate feelings and relationships; smoke, drink, swear; have refreshingly normal sexual thoughts and conflicts. The dialogue and description are so natural and entertaining (and often very funny) that the author disarms his audience (anyone who writes so convincingly must be a friend) while planting mines of moralism: pot and sex are destructive. Sean pressures Liz into having sex which she finally does, not out of passion, but anger at her parents; and her fears of pregnancy are soon realized. Sean, too immature, backs out of marriage but pays for her abortion. Liz immediately turns recluse out of shame, and she, Sean, and the issues are never really faced again. Only Maggie is left to carry a totally irrelevant ending—thoughts and clichés on graduation and growing up. Yesterday's ideas seductively disguised for today's teens. (pp. 137-38)

Marilyn R. Singer, in her review of "My Darling, My Hamburger," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1969 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1969), Vol. 16, No. 3, November, 1969, pp. 137-38.

John Rowe Townsend

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["My Darling, My Hamburger"] seems to me to be a better novel than "The Pigman."… It's the story of two couples in their senior year at high school. One pair, Maggie and Dennis, are squareish, not too attractive, unsure of themselves and each other. The other pair, Liz and Sean, are desperately in love, and the boy is importunate. And he gets his way. (The girl's resistance is ended, convincingly, not by persuasion or passion but because her stepfather is nasty to her.) And Liz becomes pregnant. Sean says he'll marry her but is dissuaded by his worldly-wise father. She has an abortion. Maggie is with her, thinks it has gone wrong and gives the game away to Liz's parents.

And that's it. The book ends with the graduation-day scene, from Maggie's viewpoint. Liz is conspicuously absent. Nothing much has happened to Maggie, and her friendship with Dennis has fizzled out, but here she is, a year older, a year wiser, ready for what comes next.

It's a simple enough story. It proves for the millionth time that you can get along quite well without a brilliant plot. The book is concerned single-mindedly with sex and growing up; more precisely, it's about the predicament—funny, bitter and nerve-racking—of men and women who are also children….

True, the story is value-laden; but then, the subject is value-laden. It's made plain, without being pointed out in so many words, that the girl still pays and that...

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Diane Gersoni-Edelman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In his My Darling, My Hamburger], Zindel copped out on his likable, interest-sustaining characters by resolving their problems in a pat, moralizing manner. The moralizing in I Never Loved Your Mind is just as obtrusive—and the characters are more superficial (particularly the female protagonist, who's a caricature embodying the worst traits of the clichéd hippy). In a relentlessly flip, trying-to-be-funny, first-person narrative punctuated by unclever footnoted comments, Dewey, a superior 17-year-old dropout and the son of parents he amiably refers to as "the librarian" and "the engineer," tells of his love for Yvette Goethals, whom he meets while working as a respiration therapist. Yvette is a tough petty thief, ardent vegetarian, and part-time nudist, who shares a pad with her brother and the other two members of the rocking Electric Lovin' Stallions. One day at her home she initiates a massage session with Dewey that slips over into lovemaking, but Yvette later dumps him, informing him she's never loved his mind. Throughout the book, Dewey's sincerity and openness to people are contrasted with Yvette's pseudo-idealism and cynicism, but the irritating self-consciousness of his narrative strains reader empathy for both characters. And while Zindel zonks readers with a glittering verbal battery of pungent dialogues, apt descriptions, bon mots, and some four-letter words, it's a virtuosity that masks rather than reveals characters; an unsuccessful attempt to illuminate serious teen conflicts—dropping out versus working within the Establishment, resolving attitudes about sex, etc.—via sophisticated humor. Still, flawed as this book is, it makes better reading than most simply because Zindel is a more technically proficient writer than most producing novels for post-child, pre-adult readers.

Diane Gersoni-Edelman, in her review of "I Never Loved Your Mind," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, June 15, 1970; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1970 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 95, No. 12, June 15, 1970, p. 2317.

The Times Literary Supplement

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Paul Zindel's] problem as a writer is what to do when you are writing about [the non-conforming young in America] as an outsider to their current revolutionary values and life-style. He solves it [in I Never Loved Your Mind] in an immensely clever way which leaves a mild trace of anxiety. Dewey Daniels … has career problems. For want of anything else, he gets a job as a hospital assistant on leaving high school. Telling a first person narrative, Mr. Zindel wins our identification with the humorous, heartless, uninvolved Dewey, who tells himself "What the hell!" and finds the hospital one pretty funny sick joke; but is, deep down somewhere, a straight, very nice guy. Dewey also finds Yvette, a glamorous, heavy-breasted girl colleague … who eats broccoli sandwiches and steals hospital equipment for the counter-culture commune she lives in with a group called the "Electric Lovin' Stallions". Gradually, through a bizarre tale told with great pace and fantastic humour (Mr. Zindel's readers would seem about to get to Kurt Vonnegut), Yvette demonstrates the vacuity of her life and beliefs: the message is, firmly and unobtrusively, that the world is an awful, corrupt place but Yvette's free-loving, macrobiotic values are no answer. Better be Dewey, chastened and solidified by his experience of both hospital and of Yvette's bed, who decides at the end to turn purposeful, and train to be a doctor. Mr. Zindel understands his young people, but also knows what he would like them to be. He might be right, but his book is a slightly too clever plea for conformity which will leave his most alert readers more than a little suspicious.

"Looking for a Life-Style," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1971; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3605, April 2, 1971, p. 385.∗

Mary Silva Cosgrave

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The effect of a tragic home environment on three tormented souls—a widow and her two teen-age daughters—is tautly dramatized in … [The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds. Paul Zindel] has drawn upon his fond recollections of his mother's preposterous schemes for getting rich quick to tell a sad and sometimes funny story. The characters in the play, like the marigolds in the scientific experiment, undergo mutations, some good, some bad. The mother is embittered by a life of disappointments and shattered dreams; a woman scorned and scornful, she is cruel, though capable of compassion. One daughter is beyond hope, jealous and vindictive, full of fears, and subject to convulsive seizures. The other, having been inspired by a science teacher, wins a prize for her experiment on marigolds and discovers there are galaxies out beyond her harsh world which offer her the kind of chance her mother lost and her sister never had.

Mary Silva Cosgrave, in her review of "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds: A Drama in Two Acts," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1971 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLVII, No. 3, June, 1971, p. 308.

Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Let Me Hear You Whisper is a touching and trenchant two-act play. It] reads beautifully, with good dialogue and characterization, an original plot, and a theme that should appeal to young people. [Helen, a] cleaning woman who has just begun working for an experimental biology laboratory, learns that the dolphin in a laboratory tank has failed to learn to talk and is therefore to be killed. Helen is a gentle, ingenuous person who has chattered with pity and affection to the dolphin. And it talks to her when they are alone, although it will not speak to the staff. She learns that the dolphin knows it was meant to be used for warfare and would not cooperate; the dolphin tells her of a plan: she must get him into a large hamper and take him to the sea. Helen is caught talking to the dolphin, which she's been told not to do, and dismissed. The dolphin says one word, "love," and everybody hears it. If Helen can be brought back and the dolphin speaks to her again, it will not be killed … but it is too late, an angry Helen will not return.

Zena Sutherland, in her review of "Let Me Hear You Whisper," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1974 by The University of Chicago), Vol. 27, No. 11, July-August, 1974, p. 188.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Paul Zindel] speaks to young people about man's cruelty and "matters of consequence" in three novels. [The Pigman, My Darling, My Hamburger, and I Never Loved Your Mind] …, and one drama, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds…. In these amusing, provocative, and very-much-of-our-time works, Zindel presents questions to his readers, and if they care (and they do), they will search for answers. Their own answers. (p. 941)

He looks at the world through the eyes of adolescents, many kinds of adolescents, all trying to find some meaning in a world apparently gone mad, all concerned with man's cruelty and "matters of consequence." By selecting an adolescent...

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Isabel Quigly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul Zindel's people seem to take over his book entirely and live so vividly you forget there's a narrator at all. [J. D.] Salinger managed the same effect in The Catcher in the Rye with an adolescent narrator who seemed to pickle a generation forever in his chat (which some found insufferably coy). Nobody thought his book suitable for Holden Caulfield's contemporaries in those days, or put it on the children's shelf.

Pardon Me, You're Stepping On My Eyeball! is a lot more outspoken and explicit and is now considered suitable for readers the age of its characters, which shows, I suppose, how life has caught up with fiction (rather than the other way round). It recalls Salinger in its...

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Zena Sutherland

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball! two] members of a high school therapy group run by the school psychologist grope toward real friendship and understanding, in a story that is ebulliently zany, at times seeming exaggerated, at times very funny. Edna is withdrawn, resisting her mother's constant nagging about getting a date; "Marsh" Mellow is a borderline psychotic who tries to convince Edna to help him rescue his father, whose letters he produces…. Marsh and Edna have several wild experiences (a house party at which most of the adolescent guests have stripped, and at which the house burns down) before the final escapade, in which Marsh coaxes Edna to run off with him to help save his father. Their...

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Isabel Quigly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like the other heroes of Paul Zindel's books [Chris Boyd, hero of Confessions of a Teenage Baboon], can explain, in language that comes convincingly from a sixteen-year-old, what the bizarre circumstances of his life have brought him to. His mother is a kleptomaniac nurse who takes him round to her patients' houses when she's hired. In between jobs they live out of two suitcases and three shopping bags in a rundown rooming house called the Ritz Hotel. So, no home, no stability, and—since he ran off when Chris was five and then died—no father. Chris's baboonery strikes no one till he and his mother land up looking after an apparently sweet old lady with an apparently alcoholic, violent son of thirty called...

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Stanley Hoffman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Approaching a new Paul Zindel novel is something of an adventure…. The reason is that, unless he changes radically as a writer of "young adult novels" (a phrase with which I've never been entirely comfortable), one is bound to be either wildly wild about Zindel's books or wildly disappointed. It is a simple matter, although somewhat coarse and irritatingly unsophisticated too: ask, say, a twelve-year-old what he thinks of a particular movie he's just seen and he will look you squarely in the eye and without hesitation answer, "Terrific!" or "It stinks!"


Thus it was when the galley copy of Mr. Zindel's latest effort, The Undertaker's Gone Bananas …, fell into my...

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Joyce Milton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul Zindel has been a trendsetter in young-adult fiction since 1968. Significantly, his latest book ["The Undertaker's Gone Bananas"] features a teen-age girl who's obsessed with death, a boy who's obsessed with practical jokes and an undertaker who's a homicidal maniac. Significantly, too, Mr. Zindel turns these elements into a zany farce…. The most striking feature of Mr. Zindel's story is the setting—a white elephant luxury-apartment complex on the Palisades Cliffs. The tenants, mostly refugees from other urban nightmares, are surrounded by unrented and perhaps unrentable apartments, and Mr. Zindel's hero [Bobby Perkins], who can't get anyone to believe that he has witnessed a murder on his neighbor's terrace,...

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Maxine Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Paul] Zindel is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award; The New York Times has included four of his books in recent lists of outstanding children's books. It is especially distressing, in light of his enormous prestige, to discover that [The Undertaker's Gone Bananas] could not have been more outrageously sexist if that had been Zindel's explicit goal.

Bobby is a brash fifteen-year-old who has virtually no friends. He views himself as a kind of superboy and attributes his rejection by his peers as stemming from the fact that, "I happen to hold poetry, goodness, and beauty above all qualities." When faced with examples of injustice in the...

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Jack Forman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Whatever one expects of a novel by Paul Zindel, [A Star for the Latecomer] is not it. (It is co-authored by his wife.) There are no drunk mothers, wayward fathers, and "off the wall" kids trying to find one another. There is not even the ambiguous mixture of cynicism and hope which has become the Zindel trademark. What there is is a sugar-coated though surprisingly moving family story and teen romance about a 16-year-old, Long Island girl named Brooke Hillary, who attends a Manhattan high school for potential stars in the performing arts. (Brooke's mother has convinced her that she will be a great dancer someday.) With an appealing, sometimes hard-to-believe naivete, Brooke narrates the past year of her...

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Cyrisse Jaffee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Death is not an easy subject to deal with in children's books. Attempts to reassure young people too often create saccharine prose; attempts to confront the issue can result in a grim and unappealing tone. Alas, "A Star for the Latecomer"—the story of a young girl trying to come to terms with her mother's approaching death from cancer—tries to find a middle ground but fails. Like Roni Schotter's "A Matter of Time." concerning a similar situation, the story is overwhelmed by its messages. The authors, intent on their topic, have produced prose that is repetitious and tends toward preachiness. And from the opening paragraph, when the narrator says, "I feel somehow you'll understand because you're probably around my...

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Sally Holmes Holtze

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Four months after the end of The Pigman …, John and Lorraine discover Gus, a sick, lonely old man, living inside Mr. Pignati's house and force themselves on him in friendship. They tell the story [in The Pigman's Legacy] in the same alternating first-person chapters; similarities from the plot (Gus dies at the novel's climax) to small incidents (Gus initiates a psychoanalyzing parlor game as Mr. Pignati did), to vocabulary and jokes … parrot The Pigman, but the strong characterization, credibility, and skilled story development is missing. Gus is stereotypically "feisty"; John and Lorraine seem pallid versions of their former selves, and their narratives are almost interchangeable. The boy who...

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Peter Fanning

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It seems that a good story will not lie down; and there are not that many around. After The Pigman, The Pigman's Legacy (followed, I suppose by The Pigman's Return), several titles and 11 years later, Paul Zindel picks up John and Lorraine. He finds them almost as fresh and eccentric as they were just before the Pigman died….

[The Pigman's Legacy has] a much simpler plot. All the old man does is die; and all the children do is make his final days a little easier. The cycle of birth, infatuation and death is heavily scored in the final chapters. But if the moral tone is just a little more sententious, the hijinks more hollow and the Overwhelming Question a lot more overwhelming,...

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David Rees

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is something peculiarly subversive about Zindel's books that appeals to the adolescent. Adults, particularly authoritarian figures like policemen or teachers, are usually portrayed in a bad light, and the reader can feel himself happily encapsulated in an immature world in which the young are wronged, misunderstood, and generally knocked about; where the battle-lines between the generations are very clearly drawn; and the teenager who thinks he's got problems can be at ease, identify with the central characters, or find he's not the only misfit, unsuccessful at home or at school, with his friends, with the opposite sex. Whether life is really like this is another matter. For the adult, reading the collected...

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Paxton Davis

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Pigman's Legacy" is] a mystery of sorts and also a tale of second chances for both John and Lorraine, not to mention the puzzled beneficiary of their ministrations and an elderly cleaning woman whom they bring into their derring-do. But … it's a rousing adventure yarn too. Mr. Zindel is an old hand at plunging from one episode to the next in such whirlwind fashion that a few implausibilities are concealed along the way. Here he deepens his narrative by alternating narrators chapter-by-chapter between John and Lorraine, which gives us not only John's headlong zest for action and Lorraine's perspective on what's happening but a fine change-of-pace that keeps the tale turning.

Sequels are risky,...

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Judith N. Mitchell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Girl Who Wanted a Boy] Sibella Cametta, 15 year old clod and scientific whiz, learns that it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. Zindel's adolescent novels are not everyone's cup of tea, but I love them. This one, too, is a fun house ride where one careens from heartache to hilarity without time to adjust to the author's antic zaniness. Sibella's mother and sister are faintly likeable horrors, the object of her affections is a poor girl's [Marlon] Brando, and Sibella herself has a juggernaut methodology that invests her quest for a boy friend with genuine black comedy. Perhaps it's this term black comedy, hastily borrowed from stage parlance, that is the key to Zindel's...

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Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is, I am sure, much good sense and sound advice for adolescents in The Girl who wanted a Boy. The trouble is that to find these desirable qualities you have to hack your way through a jungle of slang, hyperbole and clotted verbiage so dense that I do not believe even American readers will find the exercise an easy one. This is not so much a story as a situation, the outline of an encounter between a schoolgirl of fifteen and a lad of nineteen who conveniently blames his casual nature on nagging parents. For that matter, one of Sibella's parents nags too, and the somewhat different tone has much the same effect. To her assertion that 'boys don't want to caress an electro magnet' her capable fixer of a...

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A. Thatcher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Girl Who Wanted a Boy, written] by an author who certainly understands American teenagers, is a brilliantly and sensitively written story of Sibella's search for her ideal of love. She rejects offers of help and advice from her mother and sister, and turns instead to a book called "How to Pick Up Boys."

She "falls in love" with a newspaper photograph of a nineteen year old boy called Dan, and hunts him down. He is as unsure and unstable as she is, but Sibella is unable to accept this. She loves him, so he must be something special, and her love and belief in him must be able to work miracles. The story moves inexorably towards the inevitable rejection and heartache. At least, she does...

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