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Archive for the month “August, 2015”

Judy Blume Revisited! Blubber

Welcome to my Judy Blume in July series! I realize I am reviewing my July readings in August. However, I devoted July to reading some classic Judy Blume novels, along with her newest book In the Unlikely Event, which I will review here as well (eventually).

The bookBlubber

My rating as a kid: 4 stars

My rating as an adult: 1-2 stars

Whoa boy. This is a tough one. Judy Blume did pre-teen kids, especially girls, a great service by writing this classic book about bullying. I commend her for it. I used to think all kids should read it. But now, I’m just not sure. This book disturbed me! I thought Wendy the bully was borderline psychotic. She needed professional help. The bullying described in this book went beyond (way beyond) mere taunts and some shoving. The name calling and public shaming of Linda, recipient of abuse, is hard enough but the girls force her to eat food, try to pull down her underpants, shove her in a closet, and pretty much guarantee some PTSD in her future. I don’t want to make light of any of this- I found the novel extremely difficult to read with any sort of enjoyment what-so-ever.

The lesson of the story is “What goes around, comes around”, as Jill, the protagonist, experiences in the latter half of the book. But does she ever learn her lesson? Jill takes no steps to extend any sort of compassion towards Linda after she herself receives the onslaught of Wendy’s wrath. Judy adds in an afterword on the copy I read that she wrote this to remind kids to speak up when they see horrible acts of bullying. However, this theme is treated so lightly in the book that I’m not sure it will resonate with kids. Was Rochelle speaking up on behalf of Linda, or merely participating in the abuse? Linda, shoved in a closet and on “trial” for being fat (I suppose), gets a nod from Rochelle who suggests Linda should have a lawyer in order to make her trial fair. Is this really speaking up?

All of Judy’s points are valid, but I honestly finished this book with a bad taste in my mouth. Where were the parents and teachers??!!! How come they noticed NONE of this teasing and bullying going on? At what point does it become an adult’s responsibility- teacher or parent- to step in?

Sadly, this book was published BEFORE the Columbine school shootings, which means many of those students probably read it at some point in their youth. It makes me so angry that this level of bullying still exists and in most cases, we learn nothing from it. 

Stray Observations:

  • The music teacher would absolutely get fired in this day and age for pinching students. Seriously, that was allowed in schools?
  • How come these kids had to eat lunch inside a classroom? And without any supervision?
  • Jill’s mom worked with computers, in the 70s. Judy always tries to be as progressive as possible!

Judy Blume Revisited! Forever…

Welcome to my Judy Blume in July series! Ok, it’s now August. However, I read some classic Judy Blume novels throughout July and culminated with In the Unlikely Event, which I will review here as well.

The book: Forever…

My rating as a teen: 3-4 stars

My rating as an adult: 2-3 stars

Forever… was never my favorite Judy Blume book, though I knew several pre-teen girls who worshipped it because the story was a gateway into the life of a sexually active teenager. And even though I’m always a sucker for sex in a book, Forever… didn’t click for me as kid/teen. I actually have no idea when I first read it. I may have been 12. Or 15. I was fortunate to have parents with full-time jobs who didn’t pay any attention to what I read (just glad I was choosing to read) and so I may as well have been as young as 8.

I can understand why parents are so put off by this book. Katherine’s parents and grandmother all but give her The Joy of Sex for her birthday. I wish I had such cool and understanding parents at that age. I wish I could have talked to them so frankly about sex. And maybe this is why I had a hard time liking it as a young girl: Katherine’s family (and Michael’s sister) was  more progressive than my own and so her world didn’t resonate with me at all.

One thing that sticks out to me now is how prevalent “Judy Blume’s Message” is about safe and consensual sex throughout the book. As a kid/teen, I would never call Judy “preachy”. But seeing Forever… through wise (jaded?) eyes I see what she was trying to do. Judy was never one to tell kids NOT to do anything. She knew better. Kids are meant to explore everything- including sex- so why not provide the safest environment for them? However, this doesn’t mean that Judy was such a free-wheeling hippie that she couldn’t advise, and even warn, against engaging in pre-marital and teenage sex at too young of an age.

I was so surprised at how PUSHY I found Katherine’s paramour, Michael, when it came to sex. Don’t do it when you’re not ready! Stick to your guns! If it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to wait! I can almost hear Judy’s near parental rant throughout Katherine’s struggle to come to terms with her body sensations versus her fear of engaging in sex. And yet Michael says he understands, but we know he really doesn’t. What shines through so clearly to me now is how YOUNG and IMMATURE these two are. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have sex, but I understand Judy’s point. You might think you are an adult at age 17/18, but think again.

Judy isn’t necessarily being preachy here, but her message is stronger in this book than in others. She understands kids. She understands the course and rush of emotions that permeate and affect every decision. Almost everything a kid and teen feels is guided by a strong emotion. They feel love more hotly. They feel fear and risk less acutely. They rarely think beyond tomorrow. They challenge, they cower. And then they grow up and things look a little more crystal.

It’s important to note that Judy isn’t making a judgement here about teenage sex. She is simply saying, “If you are going to do it, be smart”. The book is not without the pitfalls to sex. There is an unwanted pregnancy, talk of abortion, and an adoption. VD is discussed and soft drugs are used. In trying to cover them all, Judy plays a deft hand. The last thing she wants is to turn kids off and have them run headlong into the dark sexual arts uninformed, rebellious, and careless.

Still, the story of Katherine and Michael is underwhelming. I just kept waiting for them to do it. I wondered what they talked about, if anything, besides sex. Most of their conversations revolved around whether they were or were not going to do it. His aggressive pushiness frightened me and her sullenness depressed me. Was I like that at her age? Probably. I, too, thought I knew everything.

And yet, however young I was when I read it, I never took this book to mean I had permission to go out and have sex. Parents need not be afraid. If anything, this is a great book for girls who might fall in the trap of thinking they have to put out in order to be loved. And I think Judy is definitely not calling it a love story. She drills in the point that you will fall in love several times in your life, not once. I respect Judy’s insight and awareness of the teenage world, even though I didn’t find this book to have a very strong story.

Stray Observations:

  • For some reason my only memory of this book, before I reread it, was that Katherine was a Candy Striper. I’m not sure why that detail stuck with me, as it’s only mentioned once.
  • Attention if you’ve read Judy’s In the Unlikely Event: The Papermill Playhouse first makes an appearance in Forever…!
  • Michael chooses “Ralph” as his penis name. Katherine should have known then that the relationship was doomed.
  • The suicide side-plot threw me… almost seemed like it should have been a separate book.
  • Judy writes strong and caring parents well. Is she modeling them after how she perceives herself?
  • Judy hates the term Young Adult Novel, yet that’s how it’s categorized at my library. Do we need a redefinition on the YA genre?

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