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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Confessions of a Grown-Up Zindel Fanatic

Paul Zindel

Paul Zindel was born May 15, 1936. I read a lot of Paul Zindel in (what is now referred to as) my tween years. There were no perfect blonde twins wafting across the pages of Zindel's books. (Take that, Francine Pascal!) Everyone didn't end up with a happy ending. (Sorry, Eleanor Porter.) I lumped him into a group of YA authors of the same ilk as Robert Cormier and Judy Blume--those who produced gritty characters who were honest, and true-to-life, and dealt with actual problems. I consider him one of the true pioneers of the vibrant YA genre we have today.

Zindel may have been influenced in his writing by his less-than-happy childhood. His father left when he was two, and his mother raised Paul and his sister on her own. It was a silent, oppresive household and the future author must have thought he was jumping out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire when he was committed to a sanitorium at the age of fifteen for tuberculosis. Upon his return to a healthy society, he won his first prize for writing--a play for a contest sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

I enjoy the fact that Zindel didn't focus on writing in school. Instead, he majored in chemistry, and actually taught high school for ten years. Perhaps another reason he was able to translate the life of teens so easily to the printed page? Zindel went on to write several more plays, and even won the Pulitzer for one called The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. In 1968, wrote his first book for young adults, The Pigman. (I've always enjoyed the absurdity of his titles. How can you beat My Darling, My Hamburger? Or Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball!?)

Mr. Zindel passed away in 2003, but his legacy goes on in his writing. There is also an excellent website dedicated to him. He once said, "I write for the people who don't like to read, as a rule." It's a good thing rules are made to be broken, Mr. Zindel, because readers and non-readers alike needed your books. Well done, and happy birthday!

"Paul Zindel." Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Vol. 37. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 15 May 2012.

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