Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book Review: Blubber by Judy Blume

Another reread of a childhood classic, and another book that is frequently banned/challenged.

Jill is a pretty normal girl. But she is friends with Wendy, the most popular girl in her 5th grade class, who is also a classic "mean girl." Wendy isn't her best friend (that would be Tracy, who is in a different class.) But when Wendy decides that Linda, a dorky, chubby girl, should be tortured, Jill goes along with it. A lot of people fault Jill at this point for not standing up for herself, and for Linda, but at the end of the book when she does stand up to Wendy, we see exactly what the consequences are. Jill becomes the ostracized/tortured kid in class.

Having been the class scapegoat for many years in elementary school, I personally do not blame the hangers-on who did participate in my teasing, but I know they would have been in my shoes had they not, and I don't blame them at all for not wanting that fate! The ringleaders like Wendy, I do blame, but only them (well, and their parents and the teachers.)

Also many adults criticize this book by saying that Jill doesn't learn her lesson. I disagree. While she never states outright, "and that day I knew what we'd done to Linda before was wrong," it's certainly implied. Early on in the book she says she knows it was wrong when Tracy was teased last year (and Jill did stick up for Tracy then.) She does suffer at Wendy's hands at the end, and even though things work out, that doesn't mean she didn't learn anything. That just means that the critics don't remember what 5th grade was like. The teasing may seem tame to us (although the scene in the bathroom with Linda on Halloween was pretty scary) but it was terrifying to an eleven-year-old. One reason Ms. Blume's books stay so popular is that she's able to get her messages across subtly. She doesn't slap kids with lessons like an after school special. Could Jill's lessons be presented more directly? Of course. But the book wouldn't be as good then. Plus, why underestimate eleven-year-olds. I got that Jill regretted having participated in teasing Linda (although not in her Halloween antics against her neighbor!) when I was a kid, and I'll bet most kids still do get that. But should Jill have turned into a sobby mess, asking forgiveness and pledging never to do wrong again? Wow, what a sorry ending that would have been. Jill's not that kind of girl. She got a taste of her medicine, but she's feisty, and she's never going to be a goody-goody. Again, this is why the book has stood the test of time: because Jill is a fully-realized little girl, with a consistent character and she's not a cookie-cutter.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend. I also reviewed this book in honor of Banned Books Week.


Teacher/Learner said...

That's what we all love about Judy Blume--she writes about kids as truthfully as possible without stereotyping or sugar-coating. I remember reading lots of Blume books for that very reason. And now, as a teacher, I see the value of books about bullying. Thanks for the great review :o)

Julie P. said...

I just reread this one last year and loved it. It was also one of my childhood favorites. I agree that Jill learned her lesson! Thanks for sharing!

Tammy said...

This is a book I plan to read with my daughter in the next year. I think that it has a perfect message without sounding preachy. I LOVE Judy Blume!