Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel

Did you read this one when you were younger? I thought I had but the fact that I didn't remember it at all makes me think now that I didn't. Did I miss out on something special by not reading it then? I'll never know. But I sure didn't find that something special reading it now as an adult, which was a disappointment.

Maggie and Liz have been friends forever, despite the fact that Liz is pretty and popular and Maggie is fat and awkward and mostly just heor worships Liz. Liz insists on setting Maggie up for double dates when she and boyfriend Sean go out. Dennis, Sean's equivalent to a Maggie although he's gangling and nerdy rather than fat and awkward, is Maggie's date and neither one of them finds all that much appealing about the other but they continue to go out with Liz and Sean. Maggie and Sean, in the meantime, are in love and have to buck their parents to continue to see each other. Their ups and downs dictate in large part the ebb and flow of the fledgling, conflicted, but finally developing relationship between Maggie and Dennis.

Occasional notes passed between the friends or couples are interspersed between the chapters, allowing for Zindel to dispose of large chunks of time in the narration. This isn't entirely successful as it means that the disagreements and avoidances between the friends remains superficial. And there's very little narrative getting from Liz and Sean happy, albeit with Sean, the typical teenaged boy, pressuring Liz to have sex, to the rather predictable denouement of the ending. And while Maggie seems more the focus of the book than the other three characters, Liz and Sean provide the (obvious) object lesson here in a fairly heavy-handed manner. And frankly neither of them end up being terribly appealing characters. Liz is hard to like from the outset and while her unplanned pregnancy and subsequent rejection by Sean is supposed to inspire pity, it doesn't. Sean likewise doesn't grab the reader's empathy despite his frigid and emotionally barren upbringing so his ultimate buckling under to his father's advice leaves the reader feeling a rush of indigestion. And as it's completely in character, Sean comes off as just other unlikeable character in this book of many unlikeables.

The book is dated (published in the 60's) and honestly I can't see it having been terribly interesting to kids of my generation, much less the more sophisticated kids of today. And lest anyone say that society has changed for the worse, Zindel's portrait of society in the late 60's is pretty darn bleak too. Stereotypical characters, superficial plot, and an obvious, belaboured lesson. Do we not give our kids credit for being more intelligent than this? I really didn't enjoy this but I know it is a favorite of many so perhaps I missed something vital here.


  1. Very interesting review. I didn't read this one as a kid, but I'm really curious now!

  2. Great review!! I've never read this one, but I remember reading another one by him for school (strange, huh?) and thinking it was really slow.

  3. I think the thing about Zindel's books was how unlikable most of the characters were. It was probably one of the first books where the protagonists were crummy because of their mean spiritedness and laziness.

    In other books, if you didn't like the main character it was because they were too good. Zindel brought the idea of writing about losers from adult fiction to YA. So the appeal of the books was their sophistication -- reading about losers is a sign of maturity, right?

  4. I do remember reading it....but I don't remember the story very well. I do remember one line, though....Maggie asks Liz if she looks ok, and Liz tells her that her eyebrows are crooked. It made me sad......I can't even believe I remember that!

  5. I know I read this as a teenager and found it, well, forgettable!

  6. I've never heard of this one, another one of those books I missed out on. Good review!

  7. i remember this one from the old days, but i don't think that i ever got around to reading it!

    i've been doing a bunch of 'blast from the past' reading lately. some sweet valley high books and others. :) fun, but dated.

  8. Interesting what you said about the book being dated. I just read it for my graduate YA Fiction class and I really enjoyed it and don't see it as dated at all. The language and some of the social realism maybe, but not the central issues. I'm in a teacher education program however, so I guess it's the difference between books that teachers like myself would use in the classroom and books that would appeal to teenagers themselves in terms of their reading outside of school. I can see how a teenager might choose the Twilight series over this for example. Thanks for this review!


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