Judy Blume's 'Tiger Eyes' to be made into a film
Tiger Eyes, my favourite of Blume's books, finally has a US release date. I'll leave a pause for a generation of women to leap whooping from their seats, and the rest of you can just look bemused and embarrassed, like a dog faced with strong emotion.
Tiger Eyes tells the story of Davey (played by Willa Holland), a 15-year-old girl who has moved to New Mexico with her younger brother and mother, following the violent death of her father. It is a book about anguish, and the paralysing effects of grief; it is a story of bad decisions made in the grips of bereavement and adolescence.
The book opens with Davey borrowing a pair of her mother's shoes for the funeral, which she describes in covetous detail. When I first read the book I envied the shoes (strappy sandals with a heel) but by the time of later readings I was more familiar with the habit of displacing the rawness of new sorrow with practical banalities. This is Blume's skill: she is an unsentimental writer, who recognises, exposes and ultimately forgives the protective veneer of adolescent selfishness which we spend our teens trying to justify, and the rest of our lives trying to grow out of.
Judy Blume is loved by those of us who grew up with her because, we felt, she really understood us.
There is a quote on the back of my copy of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (surely one of the best book titles of all time): "We love your stories. You must know what we're really thinking". I remember being surprised to find that I agreed with this statement. I was so used to reading books that were patronising, dated, unfamiliar, magical, that I was astonished to find someone who seemed to inhabit a world I recognised, whose characters were neither impossibly good nor grotesquely comic.
Blume was one of the first writers I read to help me make sense of this grubby and complicated reality; full of friends and sisters and parents and bodies and schools, all busy being imperfect, disappointing and revolting. Blume helped me to see that the humiliation I felt at being an adolescent girl – quite apart from any specifics of person or incident – was this enormous shared secret which united us in our loneliness.
Of course, in our teens, everyone talked about Forever (the sex book, and the only Blume book I've never read); but the drunken Judy conversations that have become one of the joys of my 30s suggest this is nobody's favourite. Forever was written at the request of Blume's daughter, who asked for a book which talked honestly about sex and, honestly, I wasn't having sex when I was reading Judy.
The joy of Judy
I preferred to spy on Deenie with her back brace; Sally J Freedman whose fantasy world protects her from the horrors of losing family members in the Holocaust; Winnie, welcoming the first black family to her street in Iggie's House. Blume's stories often balance on the back of big issues, yet they never seem patronising or instructive. By peopling her books with characters who excel in fallibility, Blume pulls the harrowing reality of the world down to the level of the most sheltered young person. These people are you. This is how you would feel, too.
The joy of Judy does not just exist in the pages of her books. In real life, Blume is a campaigner against censorship, a jolly tweeter, and is peelingly honest about her own imperfections as a mother. I recently found out that Tiger Eyes was written in the aftermath of an unhappy move to New Mexico, where Blume took her children to be with her second husband. But I never wanted Judy to be my mother, or my friend – I wanted to live in her books, for them to be my reality.
When I first read Tiger Eyes, I didn't know what a canyon was, and the only desert I could picture was nothing but dunes and camels; yet Davey's life seemed more real than my own. Judy helped me to grow up, and if I ever manage it, I will thank her. – © Guardian News & Media 2013