The action in Tiger Eyes occurs in two states, New Jersey and New Mexico. It takes place before, during, and after fifteen-year-old Davey Wexler's first year of high school. The year is approximately 1980 (Davey's father, who graduated from high school in 1964, was thirty-four when he was shot and killed during a robbery of his 7-Eleven store). In the opening scene, the Wexlers are getting ready for the funeral and Davey is desperately trying to find a pair of shoes to wear.
Chapters 1 through 6 take place in Atlantic City, where the Wexlers live in an apartment above Mr. Wexler's store. After the school year begins, when it becomes apparent that the family is not adjusting well to their loss, they travel to Los Alamos to stay with Davey's aunt and uncle.
Despite being called the Atomic City, Los Alamos, also known as The Hill due to its altitude of 7,300 feet, is pictured as a very safe town, particularly compared with dangerous, crime-ridden Atlantic City. In Los Alamos, Davey lives in a large home and, after a few weeks when it is determined that they will stay for a while, attends Los Alamos High, "a very good school." Although Davey finds Los Alamos "flat and ordinary," it is strategically isolated and surrounded by spectacular scenery. This locale provides Davey with a beautiful canyon to explore, and it is in this canyon that she meets Wolf. Except for a trip into Santa Fe for Christmas shopping, the action in Los Alamos occurs...
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Tiger Eyes follows the format of most of Blume's novels. Written in simple prose, it is a first-person narrative that reads like a diary. The chapters are short and the characters and themes are developed through action and dialogue. As in Blume's other books, the plot explores the theme of maturity as the main character faces a challenge or tragedy. The ending does not have an obviously didactic moral or lesson, but instead reflects the protagonist's gradual understanding and growth. It is a formula that has proven to work for Blume.
Tiger Eyes is written from Davey Wexler's point of view. Instead of the usual past tense, the novel employs present tense—which is perhaps disconcerting to read but has the advantage of making the events described seem as if they are happening at that moment. The style works to bring the reader into the writer's world.
The use of flashbacks within chapters and as separate chapters, as Davey gradually recalls details about the night of her father's murder, is very effective. In the flashbacks, there is a touching depiction of the special ritual that Davey and her father shared. After a while, she cannot bear to think about her father's death any more; Chapter 12 begins, "Stop! I tell myself. Stop thinking about that night. Concentrate on how good it feels to be alive."
Blume also describes the heroine's fantasies or imaginings. Throughout the novel, Davey thinks about how things might be. For example, most of Chapter 10 relates Davey's thoughts— how she would...
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Although Blume is one of the most popular writers of young adult books in the last two decades, she is also among the most controversial. Many of her novels have been criticized and censured repeatedly, mainly because of themes of sexual maturation, frank language, and the absence of customary moralizing. Some critics fault her colloquial prose, her tendency to dwell on even the most mundane of life's experiences, and her prosaic treatment of the character's thoughts and feelings, while others consider these elements to be among her strengths. In any case, her name, which is well known to children, is used on children's books and often-explicit young adult and adult novels alike, a circumstance that some people feel might confuse younger readers who may be led into reading novels that are not appropriate for their age group.
Forever has received the brunt of the criticism, having been attacked for its depiction of an adolescent sexual encounter. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, Then Again, Maybe I Won't, and Deenie have been criticized as well. The sexual themes and objectionable language have been subdued in Tiger Eyes, and critics have found little to condemn here. The sensitive handling of issues such as death, racial tension, and teenage alcoholism are well done and timely. Indeed, many have praised Tiger Eyes as Blume's best work.
Interestingly, at her editor's suggestion, Blume deleted from Tiger Eyes...
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Topics for Discussion
1. After Adam Wexler's murder, why is Gwen Wexler the strong one while Davey falls apart, yet later Davey is strong and her mother sinks into a depression? What effect does the mother's breakdown have on her children?
2. What is in the paper bag on Davey's closet shelf, and why does she keep it there? Why does she finally get rid of the bag's contents?
3. Why does Wolf send Davey a stone from California? What kind of stone is it?
4. Wolf is a National Merit Scholarship winner and a student at Cal Tech. Why is this important to the story?
5. What different groups of students are found at Los Alamos High School? How do they compare with the students at your school?
6. What is the significance of Bathtub Row?
7. Why did Davey decide to become a candy striper? Was she happy with her decision?
8. Davey finds that there are a large number of clubs and churches in Los Alamos. Why might this be the case?
9. What does Davey buy her father for Christmas? Why does she buy him a gift?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Research the history of Los Alamos from its founding to the present and explain why it is called "The Atomic City."
2. Davey's friend Jane has a drinking problem. Contact an alcoholic prevention program in your area to find out about alcohol abuse among teenagers in the United States.
3. Read about Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. Discuss how the cities are the same and how they are different.
4. Stunned by Adam Wexler's death, the family travels to Los Alamos to recover. Blume's choice of Los Alamos is an ironic one. Why?
5. Tiger Eyes shows three major cultures in New Mexico. Compare how the three are presented in the novel and explain how they are alike and how they are different.
6. Read a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Write a paper on the "stages of dying." Discuss how the survivors pass through similar stages when a loved one dies.
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While the style and format of most of Blume's books are similar, and the theme of maturity crops up in many of them, Tiger Eyes is not closely related to any of her other works. Generally, her novels deal with personal growth and sexual maturity on the one hand and a particular social issue on the other. For example, Iggie's House is concerned with racial bigotry, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret with religious bias, It's Not the End of the World with divorce, Deenie with physical deformity, and Blubber with obesity. Tiger Eyes follows this same format, but its heroine is older and more mature than most of Blume's characters, and the writing is more masterfully crafted.
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For Further Reference
Blume, Judy. Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1986. Letters children have written the author, arranged by subject matter, and interspersed with Blume's comments.
Collier, Laurie and Joyce Nakamura, eds. Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993: 250-255. Includes a selection of sketches from Something About the Author.
Lipsyte, Robert. "A Bridge of Words." The Nation (November 21, 1981): 551- 553. An enthusiastic review of Tiger Eyes and of Blume's writing in general.
Mazurkiewicz, Margaret. "Blume, Judy (Sussman) 1938-." In Contemporary...
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