Haven Kimmel didn’t say her first words until she was almost 3 years old. When she finally spoke, the first words out of her mouth were “I’ll make a deal with you.” Fortunately for her readers, she “had saved up a fair amount of words as a result,” she said.
For someone who got such a late start with language, Kimmel more than makes up for it in her memoir, “A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana”. The book provides a refreshing look at a small town childhood in what often seems more like a series of vignettes than a novel. This equally hilarious and poignant memoir effortlessly combines laugh out loud humor with a sensitivity and tenderness that shows Kimmel’s innate familiarity with how life works. “Running with Scissors” author Augusten Burroughs calls her “the love child of Anne Tyler and David Sedaris”- an apt description of how Kimmel fuses wit with touching family dynamics to create an all-around fun read.
The young protagonist in “A Girl Named Zippy” is Kimmel herself, nicknamed Zippy after a roller-skating chimp on TV. From there, the book follows the early years of Kimmel’s childhood in 1970s Mooreland, Indiana, population 300. The setting allows for unlimited descriptions of quirky locals, such as the town hippies Zippy gives haircuts to in exchange for their dog and the redneck neighbor who lights his pants on fire when he attempts to strike a match on his fly.
Not everyone had high hopes for Kimmel’s book. The author describes her sister’s reaction when she hears Kimmel’s proposition for a book about Mooreland, “I know who might read such a book. A person lying in a hospital bed with no television and no roommate. Just lying there. Maybe waiting for a physical therapist. And then here comes a candy striper with a squeaky library cart and on that cart there is only one book- or maybe two books: yours, and “Cooking with Pork”. I can see how a person would be grateful for Mooreland then.”
Kimmel’s sister was wrong, and “A Girl Named Zippy” soared to the top of The New York Times Bestseller List after its release in 2001. It turned out many people were grateful for Mooreland.
Kimmel earned a master’s degree in creative writing from North Carolina State University and it shows. It’s easy to see that she knows what she’s doing when it comes to writing. Despite being outwardly pleasing, her work is also masterfully constructed. It’s the type of writing that goes down easy, page after page, until you realize the book is nearly finished in one sitting. Although “A Girl Named Zippy” generally progresses forward in time, it skips about on many detours within chapters, only to return to the original topic once more. Despite the non-linear format, the reader is only too happy to travel along with Kimmel on her many tangents.
One of the most impressive aspects of “A Girl Named Zippy” is that even in her thirties Kimmel retains a remarkable memory of what it was like to be a child- not only the joys, but also the difficulties of being a youngster in an adult world. She masters the art of writing from a child-like perspective while remaining firmly ensconced in a mature plane. By utilizing this tone, Kimmel often creates humorous situations by using dramatic irony to create a separation between what Zippy knows and what the reader knows. Precocious and spunky (but never cloyingly so), Zippy represents an essential element of childhood presented with honesty and compassion.
Haley Stocking is an English and theater senior and Mustang Daily book critic.