A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Pigman is a searing, emotional young adult novel in which two teen siblings learn the impact they can have as kind -- or hurtful -- friends. Written by Paul Zindel, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, this book depicts the unusual friendship between two troubled high school teens and a kind older gentleman named Mr. Pignati. It's narrated by the teens, Lorraine and John, who alternate chapters in which they reveal details about their problems at home as well as about their friendships. Teens and adults in the book drink and smoke. John does both. There's also "cursing," though it's mostly masked, as John uses symbols (@#$%) instead of actual strong language. Violent and scary situations include a mother losing her temper and slapping her daughter, and an ill man collapsing and falling down.
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What's the story?
Troubled teens John and Lorraine, and a couple of their misfit friends, play a game to pass the time: They phone strangers picked randomly from the phone book, and compete to see who can keep a stranger on the phone the longest. Lorraine calls a man in her neighborhood, and engages him by saying she's soliciting money for charity. Later, John convinces Lorraine that they should visit the man, Mr. Pignati, and collect his $10 pledge. Lorraine has misgivings, but she goes along, and when they meet the "Pigman," the young people are half-tempted and half-touched by Mr. Pignati's overstuffed house, his generosity, and his loneliness. The older man offers the kids the respect and warmth that they don't get from their rigid parents, and his lonely life gives the teens new perspective on their families and their own places in the world. But teens will test boundaries, even very loose ones, and John and Lorraine misjudge big-time in a way that tests all of their relationships.
Is it any good?
This is a hugely entertaining story that adolescent readers will appreciate for being meaningful without being moralistic and having complex characters that are not black-and-white. The bad guys are also good, and the good guys are also bad. John and Lorraine are sympathetic but always very real-seeming teens who lie to their parents, make big mistakes, and have a lot to learn about the impact of their behavior. Their parents are quite flawed, but they're whole people who show the effects of their own challenging lives. And the Pigman is a loving gift of a character.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what aspects of The Pigman, which was originally published in 1968, date it. Conversely, what things could happen today as easily as they could have happened back then?
Mr. Pignati teaches John and Lorraine a game in which they must determine who's to blame for a (fictional) murder, and they learn what their answers say about themselves. Who do you think is to blame for what happens at the end of this book, and why?
Read more about these characters in Paul Zindel's sequel to The Pigman, The Pigman's Legacy.
- Author: Paul Zindel
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date: October 12, 1968
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 192
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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