Oldies-But-Goodies: Judy Blume’s Blubber, 1974


I know Elder and I tore through Judy Blume’s books as children, but I have a feeling neither of us ever really appreciated her skill of actually getting into the heads of adolescents.  I opened Blubber for a reminder.  I ended up sitting on the floor, wedged in a corner, to read it in its entirety.

I remembered trying to be friends with girls for fear of NOT being friends with them.
I remembered being bullied.
I remembered bullying.
I remembered being ten.

If the “celebrate-materialism-and-attention-whoreism” crapfest that is much* of mainstream young adult fiction today is Tiger Beat and Cosmo, Judy Blume is National Geographic.  Raw truth honestly told.

The Story:
Jill Brenner lives in a suburb of Philadelphia and attends Hillside, an elementary school for fifth and sixth graders.  Her best friend Tracy being in another class, Jill does her best to fit in with the other members of Mrs. Minish’s fifth grade classroom, some of whom she’s known since kindergarten.
Like any part of elementary school, it isn’t entirely easy.  When the most popular girl in the class singles out quiet Linda Fischer to pick on, like her peers, Jill follows.

“Wendy passed a note to Caroline.  Caroline read it, then turned around in her seat and passed it to me.  I unfolded it.  It said: Blubber is a good name for her! I smiled, not because I thought the note was funny, but because Wendy was watching me.”

The bullying escalates.  The girls and boys of Room 206 taunt the titular character, chanting rhymes and changing the lyrics of well known songs to heckle Linda on the bus.  At one point, she’s locked in the closet; at another, queen bee Wendy convinces Linda that she’s eaten an ant and Linda throws up.  The boys and girls pick on Linda mercilessly, and eventually decide to put her “on trial.”

The GOOD:
Blume’s characterization of adolescent boys and girls is spot on.  Although the protagonist is a part of the bullying, her perspective allows the reader to empathize (to a sometimes uncomfortable extent).  Jill wants to be recognized.  She’s disappointed when she doesn’t win the most creative costume award in the Halloween parade with her flenser costume and openly annoyed that her brother wins his school’s costume award in her discarded witch costume.  She wants to be accepted by Wendy, but more out of fear than out of admiration.  Linda, on the other hand, is annoying; although though no one deserves being bullied, her behavior makes you see why she’s such a target.  The language is also perfect.

The BAD:
This book is challenged by people that feel that there are not appropriate consequences for the tormentors.
In short, the people that challenge this book are idiots.  Who probably would also like to ban history books.  And reality.

Real life, especially that of children, is not packed into neat little boxes and tied with bows of closure.  Adults don’t always intervene, bad guys don’t always get punished.

Besides: What’s BETTER than a bathroom showdown in which the protagonist speaks her mind and makes the secondary characters see what a heinous B Wendy is?  Would critics rather a retribution fairy come and rain hell fire on her… maybe implement a little eye-for-an-eye and make Wendy show her underoos to the boys in the class?

The VERDICT: YES.  Unequivocally.  Read it.  Have your children read it.  Dress up as a flenser for Halloween.

This book is of OBG status for two reasons: 1) it’s a classic and 2) it’s so original that I wouldn’t make it into an equation if I could.  I lurv Judy Blume.

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2 Responses to Oldies-But-Goodies: Judy Blume’s Blubber, 1974

  1. tulip says:

    When my daughter was born I wrote Judy Blume a fan letter telling her about how much her books meant to me and how I hoped they would be as great for my daughter. She wrote me back (squee!) and was so nice and thanked me for my compliments. I love her so much for “getting” what kids are about and being able to write in such a compelling way. National Geographic indeed!
    I lost a lot of my books when I went off to college and I’m now collecting all the Judy Blumes for my daughter. This is the cover of Blubber that I had. I’d love to get them all in the editions that I had in the 70s!

    • roygirltheyounger says:

      i hate the way they’ve changed the covers of all the books we read as kids. they took the realistic, gritty covers and made them happy-go-lucky and bubbly… ill-fitting for the content inside them. ramona’s no longer awkward and annoying looking, anastasia has morphed into anne hathaway, the judy blume books have people hugging instead of bullying or having their parents get divorced…

      i think i’ll do a post on this.

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