In the irrepressible, bittersweet style of his novels, Zindel offers an autobiographical vignette from his teen years, when he and his mother and sister shared a house in the Staten Island community of Travis with a fatherless Italian family whose warmhearted ""Nonno [grandfather] Frankie"" was the original for Zinders The Pigman (1968). Zindel's mother was a parent to endure: histrionically suicidal, a pathological man-hater, flighty, suspicious, improvident. Somehow, Zindel survived with his humor not only intact but enriched by deflecting her bizarre behavior with his own extraordinary intelligence and wit. Despite Mom's decree that they stay away from the Vivonas, the Zindels were soon sharing the delectable meals prepared by Nonna Mamie, while Nonno Frankie shared jokes, planted a garden, and counseled Paul on battling his bullying classmates. Meanwhile, Paul found a good friend in Jennifer, who was bitterly but accurately prescient about her prospects for getting out of ""dead-end"" Travis, and Nonno encouraged them both: ""Each of you is the only one of you who will ever dance your own tarantella...listen to yourself, then you don't think of Death anymore! You think of Life!"" The real life reads so like Zindel's fiction that it's hard to believe it's all true--or that the fiction isn't. It hardly matters: the author reveals a sensitive, observant boy, struggling to reach out to kindred spirits and learning to confront pain with his inimitable brand of humor. Literal or not, there's a lot of truth in that. Photos not seen.