Judy (Sussman Kitchens) Blume Essay - Critical Essays

Blume, Judy (Sussman Kitchens)


Judy (Sussman Kitchens) Blume 1938–

American novelist.

Blume is one of the most popular and controversial authors writing for young adults. She is known for her frank portrayal of the physical and emotional maturation of adolescents. Some adults consider her novels inappropriate for young readers. They object to Blume's treatment of such topics as menstruation, masturbation, and teenage sexuality. A number of critics have faulted her novels for lacking depth, and some have accused her of trivializing the problems and even the lives of teenagers. On the other hand, many critics praise Blume's ability to recreate the colloquial speech of young adults and commend her portrayal of adolescents who come to terms with their changing lives.

Blume first gained recognition with Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1970). This novel has two themes: Margaret's preoccupation with the physical signs of puberty, and her search for religious identity. Blume won acclaim for her warmly humorous treatment of female concerns, although several critics considered her depiction of Margaret's bodily changes overly graphic. Forever … (1976), with its detailed description of a first sexual encounter, was even more controversial. While some readers and critics have complained about the sexual content of Blume's novels, others praise her emphasis on individual responsibility in sexual matters.

Tiger Eyes (1981) is in some ways atypical of Blume's young adult novels. Sexual themes, which often preoccupy her protagonists, are deemphasized in this book in favor of examining the effects of death and senseless violence. Some critics consider this novel her most accomplished work. As with Blume's other young adult novels, Tiger Eyes has been praised for its effective blending of sophisticated themes and maturing characters.

Blume has remarked that she vividly remembers her own questions and emotions as a young person and she attempts to show readers that they are not alone in their fears and confusion. Her books are often set in suburbia, reflecting her own East Coast, middle-class background. Part of Blume's appeal, according to some critics, stems from her refusal to moralize as she emphasizes the need for individual and social responsibility. Several of her works have received regional book awards.

(See also CLC, Vol. 12; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.; and Something about the Author, Vols. 2, 31.)


Miss Blume's works offer a child's-eye view of the trials and tribulations of life, and cover just about every social and emotional problem her readers are likely to encounter. It's Not the End of the World, for example, concerns a girl whose parents are getting divorced. The heroine of Deenie is a thirteen-year-old with curvature of the spine. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is about sibling rivalry. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is the story of a girl with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, trying to choose her own religion.

Miss Blume also writes about death, timidity, mob cruelty, and racial prejudice. But most of her books are in one way or another about sex. Her characters discuss their own sex lives or their parents'; they masturbate and menstruate; they worry about the size of their breasts and about kissing: they have wet dreams and they even have intercourse.

Given the sophistication of Miss Blume's material, her style is surprisingly simple. She writes for the most part in the first person: her vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are colloquial; her tone, consciously or perhaps not, evokes the awkwardness of a fifth-grader's diary….

If the prose often seems at odds with the subject, however, it is perfectly suited to Miss Blume's imagination and characterization. Plot in the Blume books follows a rather strict pattern. There is, first of all, a "problem"—social or emotional; then, a hero or heroine to define, and other children to participate in, the problem; parents to pay the bills, drive the cars, and occasionally give a word of advice; the odd trouble some sibling or doting grandparent. The problem is resolved through the child's own experience, and the book ends.

Miss Blume's stock melodramas are staffed by stock characters—the Right People (from the author's point of view) and the Wrong People. The Right People do and think the Right Thing, the Wrong People the Wrong Thing. One Right Person is virtually indistinguishable from another, and Wrong Persons bear a striking resemblance to other Wrong Persons. (p. 65)

These books are a perfect, if pint-sized, literary embodiment of contemporary...

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David Rees

What sort of picture would a being from another planet form of teenage and pre-teenage America were he able to read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever? He would imagine that youth was obsessed with bras, period pains, deodorants, orgasms, and family planning; that life was a great race to see who was first to get laid or to use a Tampax; that childhood and adolescence were unpleasant obstacles on the road to adulthood—periods (sorry!) of life to be raced through as quickly as possible, to be discarded as casually as Michael in Forever throws away his used contraceptive. He would discover that the young have almost no intellect and very few feelings; that falling in love is not a matter of complex emotions that seem at the time to change one's perception of people—indeed the whole world—out of all recognition; but that it is simply a question of should one go on the pill or not, swapping partners quite heartlessly, and whether one is doing it right in bed. He'd realize, with some surprise, that sex isn't even very erotic: that it's just clinical.

Adolescents do of course have period pains and worry about the size of their breasts or penises; they fall in love and some of them sleep together. There should obviously be a place for all these concerns in teenage novels; but to write about them, as Judy Blume does, to the exclusion of everything else is doing youth a great disservice. She succeeds quite magnificently in trivializing everything, particularly young people themselves. She would appear not to know that they do find time, whatever their emotional and sexual preoccupations may be, to be interested in and participate in a very wide spectrum of human existence. To serve them up the kind of stuff of which Forever consists is to underestimate totally their ability to think and to feel, not only about themselves but about the whole complexity of living that goes on around them.

Nor is that Judy Blume's only major fault. Forever has a bad taste, a want of sensibility, a heavy-handed clumsiness that is breath-taking. The reader's reaction is laughter—anything from an embarrassed snigger to falling out of a chair with hilarity—when he ought to feel moved or excited or enthralled. (pp. 173-74)

Consider the artless banality of this: "I came right before Michael and as I did I made noises, just like my mother." It's the same sort of language as "I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a cup of coffee." Most writers are aware that human activity is enormously rich and varied, and to give value to that variety, what is linguistically apt for one thing is inappropriate to another. But not so Judy Blume. She has no sense of the incongruous, not even a sense of humor. (p. 175)

One could go on with other examples, but it hardly seems worth it. It's enough to say that the triviality of her thinking is matched by the sheer shoddiness of her English. She employs the usual sub-Salingerese American first-person narration, but so unmemorably that it makes Paul Zindel's use of the technique look like startling originality. There is absolutely nothing in Judy Blume's style that defines it as specifically hers…. Judy Blume's novels are the ultimate in the read-it-and-throw-it-away kind of book. They seem to be saying that when you've read the text you'll be equipped to do the real thing and you won't have to bother with the tedious business of coming back to a story to find out what it's like. In other words, they are not only short-changing the young; they are...

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Margaret Mason

"Newspapers are very big on facts, I think," muses Davis (Davey) Wexler, the 15-year-old daughter left behind after her father was shot in the chest [in Tiger Eyes]. "But not on feelings. Nobody writes about how it feels when your father is murdered."

Judy Blume does. And even if your father hasn't been murdered, even if you're no longer 15, and even if you'd rather think about something else, she puts you inside that girl: a luminous-eyed (thus the title) brownette, built like a swimmer, at once achingly vulnerable, funny and tough. In the proper cadence of grief—paralysis, anger, catharsis, gradual acceptance—you know how it feels, slowly, excruciatingly, over a school year's...

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Jean Fritz

How does a girl feel when her father is shot? When he bleeds to death in her arms? Beginning with the father's funeral, Judy Blume [in "Tiger Eyes"] follows her 15-year-old heroine, Davey, step by step…. The love interest that is a frequent feature in Judy Blume's work is muted. Davey's friend Wolf, a college student (wise for his years and also wounded in spirit), helps her deal with her problems, even though the two have met only in brief encounters; still he is a central influence in helping her through.

This is a masterly novel, not to be dismissed as simply another treatment of death and violence. The reader empathizes not only with the heroine but with all the other characters. Each has his...

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Robert Lipsyte

[Blume's] Tiger Eyes, should slip past the censors. There is no explicit sex and there are no objectionable words. It is her finest book—ambitious, absorbing, smoothly written, emotionally engaging and subtly political. It is also a lesson on how the conventions of a genre can best be put to use.

The plot of Tiger Eyes is a staple of juvenile novels. A family member dies and the survivors must reconstitute themselves. Standard props are used: A lovable cat and a comical younger brother pop up from time to time to loosen the tension. Textbook suspense is created early: A mysterious paper bag and a romantic young stranger are left unexplained for many pages.

Thus the...

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Lynne Hamilton

[Throughout] Blume's novels the age-old image of the female, a dependent, ineffectual creature whose importance can only be derived from a man, remains drooped over its pedestal. Conservative watchdogs accuse Blume of iconoclasm; but in fact her portrayal of young women helps perpetuate both the female stereotype and the status quo. Her adolescents may sprout breasts, but in a more fundamental sense they do not develop. Bland, passive, and unfocused, they are locked in Neverland where the future is a dirty word.

The static quality of Blume's heroines is particularly striking in novels about twelve- to eighteen-year-olds. More than any other stage of life except infancy, adolescence is characterized...

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On my first exposure to Blume, a few years ago, I turned out to be immune to Blume fever. Her realism struck me as shallow, and I was put off by her knack for observing unpleasant details. Recently, I read her again, determined to find her magic formula, and I am now ready to amend my views. In a Judy Blume book, realism is everything. True, it has no great depth, but it is extraordinarily convincing. True, she includes unpleasant details—things we all notice but usually don't mention—yet they increase the credibility that is the source of her magnetic power. Blume's technique might be compared to cinéma vérité. She writes as though filming the landscape of childhood from the eye level of a child. She...

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