The Pigman

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Pigman Book Poster Image
Teens grasp impact of their hurtfulness in emotional novel.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The high school students in The Pigman will give younger readers a little information about high school curriculum and culture. The book was written in the late '60s and reveals differences between modes of communication and entertainment then vs. now.

Positive Messages

Throughout most of the novel, the main characters, John and Lorraine, blame their troubles on their flawed parents, but the teens come to understand the importance of owning up. The Pigman shows that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John and Lorraine's parents are so strict that the teens can't see any merit in their guidance, but Mr. Pignati offers them freedom, trust, and friendship. He shows them how it feels to be respected, and how to be better friends. When they realize they've failed Mr. Pignati, the teens learn how to accept responsibility for their behavior.

Violence

A man with a medical problem falls down a flight of stairs. A mother slaps her daughter across the face in anger; the daughter is afraid of her mother and tells others that the mom will beat her.

Sex

A teen boy and girl kiss on a bed after playfully chasing each other around the house. A mom is very worried about her daughter's safety and talks a good deal about dressing more conservatively and about how boys/men are only after one thing. The mom works as a nighttime nurse/caregiver for sick and elderly people, and she often mentions that her male clients, or a female client's spouse, has made suggestive remarks or moves on her.

Language

Early in the novel, John -- who narrates alternate chapters -- explains that his co-narrator, Lorraine, feels he curses too much so he has decided to use type symbols to represent curse words. He types @#$% to represent mild cursing and [email protected]#$% in place of more rude cursing. It takes little imagination to read the words into the text, but the only actual curse word used in the book occurs when John tells his dad he wants to pursue a career as an actor, and his dad tells him, "Don't be a jackass."

Consumerism

Marlboro cigarettes, Pepsi Cola and Beekman's Department Store.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens smoke cigarettes and consume beer and wine. John was encouraged to try beer at age 10, when he would drink what was left in beer glasses after his parents' parties. John's father is a reformed alcoholic who stopped drinking when he developed cirrhosis of the liver; John knows this but continues to drink -- daily it seems. John also smokes cigarettes, and his friend Lorraine gives him a hard time about it, asking him if he "wants to die." Mr. Pignati serves John and Lorraine homemade wine. At a party, John drinks passes out from excessive drinking.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTommyT December 20, 2014

Poor role models

Two lying and cheating teenagers con an old man into a friendship that eventually kills him with a heart attack. Such a depressing dead-ended plot. Just about... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byButlorkitty05 April 23, 2014

Not for twelve and under

I just read the pigman in 7th grade this year. I'm a teenager and this book is still very disturbing. Lorraine's mom is verbally abusive. Johns dad is... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 8, 2017

Growing Up Summed Up in a Nutshell: A Must Read

The Pigman is by far one of my fave reads! My mum let me read it early last year, and I loved it. Although there is a lot of drinking and swearing, it is a book... Continue reading

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.

Book details

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