I have known of both these books since the 1970s; the first was required reading in a high school English class, the second a popular title I stumbled upon at a friend's house.
It was only this week, when murky memories finally prompted me to track down a new copy of The
Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds that I discovered on the back cover that another long-forgotten favorite, My Darling, My Hamburger, was authored by the very same man.
Holy Amazon Prime! I devoured them both this weekend and found myself caught up in a string of stirring memories from the past.
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The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel
Mama Beatrice oozes ugliness as she raises her two teenage daughters in a deserted vegetable stand. Despite the squalor, her daughter Tillie finds success at the science fair and dares to hope for the future. This play won the Pulitzer prize.
"Can you give her more anger?" she urged me. "More darkness and sarcasm and despair?"
My ninth-grade English teacher, Nancy Priestkorn had awarded me the lead role of Beatrice in our classroom read-aloud of Marigolds, most likely because of my smooth reading skills. But clearly, Ms. Priestkorn expected a performance from me that I was not able to give, since projecting the emotions of a bitter, burnout middle-aged divorcee was not in my fourteen-year-old wheelhouse.
After cajoling and criticizing me through several class periods, she took the part away from me and gave it to the even more soft-spoken Carol Griffith, who fared no better than me in her ability to conjure up a midlife crisis.
I know that Ms. Priestkorn liked me. She later became fond friends with my mom, a fellow teacher, and sang my praises mightily. But it has bothered me, then and now, that she did not take the time to invest in me, to coach me, to put a little effort into bringing out a new side of me. To teach me.
Adults almost always overlooked me as a child, and while I still feel a certain sadness about that, I know that experience has shaped me into an adult who looks out for the overlooked, and cares about connecting with kids. And so, in the end, I am thankful.
My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
Four high school seniors work through issues of romance and friendship as they begin to imagine themselves as adults and wonder where life may be taking them.
One evening when I was fifteen and hanging out with a group of neighborhood friends, I found this book on an end table in rec room of my host, John Hamlin. Retreating into the world between the pages, I amazed everyone but especially John by reading the whole book in an hour or so. He teased me about that for months, and I daresay if I ran into him today, decades since we last talked, he would mention that book in the first five minutes.
My quick work of Hamburger may say something about my reading skills but I think it reveals far more about how effortlessly I bonded with the characters and found myself in their transformative struggles. I was not unpopular as a teenager; I had plenty of friends but I think I was cut from a different cloth than most. Like the kids in Hamburger, I spent a lot of time in my head, wondering who I was and what I stood for, and more often than not, John was the only friend who truly understood.
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