Judy (Sussman Kitchens) Blume Robert Lipsyte - Essay

Robert Lipsyte

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 reader … is comfortable in TV sitcom territory. Even the opening chapter, in which a 15-year-old girl is searching for shoes to wear to the funeral of her father, shot during the robbery of his 7-Eleven store, is out of Eyewitness News.

But the story deepens, takes turns. Davey Wexler, her mother and her 7-year-old brother flee Atlantic City for the Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of the dead man's older sister, a rigid, domineering clubwoman, and her husband, a fearful, insular weapons scientist. In the oppressive atmosphere of Bomb City, the childless couple attempt to take control of the lives of the three visitors. (p. 551)

Tiger Eyes never falters, never slides into melodrama or preachment. Blume is a crisp and often funny stylist with a gift for defining character through snappy dialogue. She is unafraid of emotion. And she offers no final answers. No one in Tiger Eyes changes forever, or emerges sadder but wiser, or even learns her lesson well. Rather, a girl and her mother weather a crisis, often helped and hindered by the same well-meaning, mean-spirited people, and now must go forward with their lives. (p. 552)

Robert Lipsyte, "A Bridge of Words," in The Nation, Vol. 233, No. 17, November 21, 1981, pp. 551-53.