I sort of delayed posting this week’s reading log, because my book selection for the week, The Pigman by Paul Zindel, was really hard for me to get into. As with the other selections I’ve read thus far, I picked this book because it appears on many lists of “important” early YA novels. I also selected this book because it has dual narrators, which presents an interesting perspective on the story, offering both a more complete picture, and a less intimate one (since you don’t get to know either narrator as deeply as if only one character were telling the story). Still, despite these reasons, this was a hard read for me. I’m not entirely sure what I didn’t like about it; maybe it’s the fact that, despite the foreshadowing and tension, the climax felt, well, anticlimactic, or maybe it’s the fact that I couldn’t really connect with either narrator, but the bottom line is, this wasn’t my favorite read.
Told through the alternating views of John and Lorraine, this novel was first published in 1968. With a confessional style, the narrators tell the reader that they are writing this after the fact in an attempt to bring closure to the events that happened after they met “The Pigman” (a lonely old man with a collection of pig tchotchkes). The teens begin the book as friends, but they cross over into the “something more” territory, which, although not as traumatic as what they feel they did Mr. Pignati, is one of the issues they are struggling to work out in their narration.
The alternating viewpoints are well done, and each character has a distinctly recognizable voice. Another strength of the narrative is the chapter length; these bite-sized chapters make the book feel fast, which is appealing for reluctant readers.
What Makes it YA?
Although Lorraine has a mature narrative voice, she and John are very distinctly adolescents characters; they have heavy, real-world worries (related to their dysfunctional homes in both instances), but they’re also deeply invested in the day to day struggles of school, popularity, and identity. At the end of the novel, the reader is left with the idea that the characters’ sense of self has been shaken, as if they knew who they were better before the book began, and have now been cut adrift. The way the narrative handles death and grieving is in a very YA context, too; as something distant and hypothetical, until the characters are forced to confront it head-on. All in all, there’s a lot of the quintessential “coming of age” story in this narrative, and even after almost fifty years, John and Lorraine have familiar voices: they could blend into any contemporary high school with a few slang modifications (although John the trickster feels a bit more timeless).
What about you? Have you read The Pigman? I’d love to hear your thoughts!