‘Our legacy was love’ – In praise of Paul Zindel: A Guest Post by Kathy Charles

Thursday, March 11, 2010

When I was writing my debut novel ‘Hollywood Ending’ I had no idea it could fit into the category of ‘Young Adult’. It’s too dark, I thought – too confronting. There was swearing, sex, violence and death, all the things I love in a novel but not necessarily something a high school would be comfortable having on its library shelf. When ‘Hollywood Ending’ came out it was embraced by the YA community, and in August this year MTV Books, a YA imprint of Simon & Schuster, will publish the novel in North America under the title ‘John Belushi is Dead.’ I decided to investigate this new wonderful world of YA further. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my reading life.

Young adult fiction is undoubtedly one of the most exciting categories in publishing today. The breadth and depth of amazing voices, both new and established, has knocked my socks off. I can’t get enough. I am devouring the work of writers like Courtney Summers, Jennifer Echols, Stephanie Kuehnert and Laurie Halse Anderson, and rediscovering the work of the masters of the genre such as Robert Cormier, S.E. Hinton, Judy Blume and J.D.Salinger.

My most treasured discovery during this period of YA investigation has been a Pulitzer Prize winning author by the name of Paul Zindel. I read a review from a reader online about how my own novel had reminded them fiercely of Zindel’s seminal work of grief and loss, ‘The Pigman’, so I decided to check it out. Reading this novel was akin to a literary punch to the face. I was left devastated, elated, emotional and destroyed (once again, all the things I look for in a novel – I like my literary experiences dramatic!). I’ve started to devour Zindel’s work, picking up dog-eared paperbacks at second hand stores and ordering out of print editions from the internet. I’m quite happy to make the statement that when it comes to YA literature, I personally believe no one touches Zindel. I am a convert to his church, a devoted disciple. Nothing is taboo in Zindel’s work, and he doesn’t shy away from the ‘big’ topics like teen pregnancy, mental illness, animal rights, death and grief. But I find that I have to take small breaks between reading Zindel novels because sometimes they are just too much. They affect me in ways that I can’t control. It’s like when I read ‘Of Mice and Men’ when I was thirteen, and I was so devastated by that book that I punched my bedroom wall (I guess I was emo before they had a term for it!). EVERY Paul Zindel book moves me in this way. The most recent culprit was a novel as bizarre as its title, ‘Pardon Me, You’re Stepping On My Eyeball,’ which was as hilarious as it was heartfelt. I’m eagerly awaiting a Zindel renaissance, and until then I’m going to spread the word far and wide, that if you’ve read Zindel and forgotten him it’s time to pick him up again, and if you’ve never experienced him, buckle your seatbelt. You’re in for a HELL of a bumpy ride.

So, are you a fan of Zindel? Has a novel ever touched you so deeply in an emotional way that you thought you were going to lose it?!?
Kathy Charles was born in 1978. She works in the film industry and divides her time between Melbourne and Los Angeles. Hollywood Ending is her first novel. Visit her website at http://kathycharles.com/.
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