The story is told in flashback with two narrators alternating the telling of the tale. It begins with a mini-prologue in which John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen relate the story of an old man named Mr. Pignati whose friendship changes their lives and helps them mature. They meet him during a telephone prank and spend most of the months of their sophomore year at Franklin High School visiting him in his home, going with him to the zoo, having great conversation, and feeling accepted for who they are. However, they make some poor decisions like having a party in his home without his permission and allowing questionable people to be there. In the end, they are indirectly to blame for his fatal heart attack and the story ends with a young man and a young woman older, but wiser. It is reminiscent of a bildungsroman in which a young person learns through life experiences how to grow and be a better person.
The theme of growing up fulfills the idea of the bildungsroman. John and Lorraine learn some very painful lessons as they grow over a period of several months in their tenth grade year. They learn how painful their parents’ lives have been and how they might avoid the same mistakes. They learn that playing child games with an adult never works, because you can’t blur the line between youth and adulthood. They learn that in trying to just have fun, you sometimes hurt others and make unforgivable mistakes. Finally, they learn in this process of growing up that love and happiness are meant to be shared and no matter how humble a life your might lead, without them, it will be meaningless.
Fate or Destiny
The theme of fate or destiny impacts the reader because there are so many instances of “woulda, coulda, and shoulda” in the novel. Lorraine calls these moments omens, because when she felt them and should have acted upon them, she ignored them and someone was hurt or died. Their very meeting with Mr. Pignati was almost fated in that Lorraine chose his name from the telephone book as a prank. We are left to wonder if it was destined that they meet him for two reasons: they needed some kind of guidance and acceptance which they weren’t receiving from their parents and he need someone to fill the loneliness of his last days. John, in the end, scoffs at this idea by saying that we make our lives what they are and fate has no role. Lorraine accepts this idea in the end as well, but it remains as a meaningful analysis of theme in this novel.
The Generation Gap
The generation gap is not a significant theme until the end when John and eventually Lorraine realize that they and Mr. Pignati had blurred the line between youth and adulthood and had paid a price as a result. It was silly for an old man to try to behave like and associate with teenagers with whom he really had little in common. It showed his desperation to break out of his loneliness and find some comfort since his wife’s death. However, the price was his own life and the trust he had come to rely on with John and Lorraine. The consequences for them include the loss of a friend, the loss of some of their innocence, and the loss of some of their peace of mind since they will live with what happened for the rest of their lives.