Welcome to the Banned Library Banned Books Project where I am reading all 100 of the most banned and challenged books from 2000-2009. I started this project a few years ago and have done a few reviews here and there, but now I am going to buckle down and finish this with a more... look, I don’t know what I’m doing here anymore, but I’m gonna keep trying to read all these if I can. We shall see.
For today, I read Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. To discuss this book at all and what made it banned, I’m gonna go ahead and say spoiler right now. If you have not read this book and wish to, go check it out before continuing because I am going to talk about specific instances in the book.
First a summary. Tiger Eyes is about Davey, a teenage girl whose father was murdered and is coming to terms with that. That’s the bare bones, basic theme of the book. After the father is murdered, Davey, her mother and her younger brother move out to New Mexico for several months to live with her aunt and uncle. What happens in New Mexico, from the aunt and uncle’s overprotective attitude to meeting new friends, form the narrative as Davey works through her shit.
Let’s get the main part out of the way right off: sex equals death. Very late in the narrative we learn that while Davey was hooking up with her boyfriend, they heard the shots that killed Davey’s father. Davey then ran in and held her dying dad and kept the clothes that were covered in his blood. If you want to put this into classic horror movie contexts, Davey feels that because she was off playing grabass like most teenagers, that she paid the price of losing her father and cannot let him go because of it. This central, very real and painful part of Davy’s character makes her an awesome complex character that unfortunately you have to read to the end to understand.
See, there’s other roadblocks that almost caused me to throw this book aside, other than the fact that I’m a grown man and these concepts are not exactly new. The other characters in the book find no depth and are there to build lessons off of. Everyone reacts to forces outside their control in almost stereotypical ways.
Case in point, the aunt and uncle. Their brother(in-law? I was never clear) just died so everyone has to wear helmets and seat belts and never do anything without five kinds of identification. Fine. But they get mixed in with a “childless couple not getting it” stereotype that is infuriating to read. Much more to the point when the child becomes combatative to their ways and the dude straight up smacks Davey. This is an educated, grown ass man, a weapons designer that was pushed over the edge by a temperamental little girl that just lost her father and he’s acting as if she caused all the problems in the world.
The uncle is further muddled by a mixed message about his job building military weapons to be used as deterrents. I never found a straight side on this message, other than “it don’t work” based on the father having an unloaded gun when he died and her mom keeping one despite falling apart. I drift back and forth between thinking this is deftly handled and just saying, “well, yeah.” Or maybe I did find the message and was simply looking for more.
That may be the simple problem I have with this book. I kept looking for more, but the lessons were right there on the surface with minimal subtext, shallow graves of dead ideas. No lesson works worse in this book than Davey’s new friend in this book, Jane, and her alcoholism. This character alone could get the book banned, getting blackout drunk and going into the backseat of cars, getting drunk at school, and using the phrase “I can quit when I want” in an unironic, completely generic alcoholic way. Cards on the table, I knew this girl in high school and the treatment here is almost insulting as the caricature of the poor rich drunk girl is played out.
Now I must admit, this book did come out in 1981 and the world has changed. Viewing what the characters are experienced through a world devoid of MTV is tough, but this book is not written as a period piece, so it fails spectacularly in many ways. If it would only place itself in time rather than give a generic view of teenage pre-angst, it might hold itself better. And that is not a call to throw a cell phone in everyone’s hands and say you “updated” it. Just, give it some reference as a piece of literature that helped start these melodramatic tropes rather than have it feel like another generic teen angst novel.
Have you read Tiger Eyes? What did you think? Should I have talked about the dying Native American in the hospital because he seemed to mean so little in the book? Do you like hiking? Why or why not?